Gwendolyn Woods (far right) and supporters of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition at the Board of Supervisors meeting on January 12. Photo by Laura Waxmann

After introducing legislation that calls for an independent federal investigation into the officer involved shooting death of Mario Woods, District 5 Supervisor London Breed joined three other supervisors on record in criticizing the San Francisco Police Department for its use of force policies.

“I’ve mourned the loss of far too many young, African Americans in my life, and since December 2 of last year, I’ve mourned yet another,” said Breed, referring to the day last month when Woods, a 26-year-old Bayview resident, was shot more than 20 times by police officers. Woods was the suspect of a stabbing and carrying a knife at the time that police confronted him.

“Too many African Americans, Latinos, and people of all races oftentimes are dying on our streets, and too often they are dying at the hand of those who are sworn in to protect them,” Breed said.

The resolution asking for a federal investigation, put forth by Breed and District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, will “put that request officially on the record” and help to restore the community’s trust in the police force, said Breed.

The action has particular resonance in the Mission, where civil cases have been filed in two police shootings – one for the March 2014 shooting of Alex Nieto and one for the February 2015 shooting of Amilcar Pérez López.

Following Breed’s criticism of the police department’s conduct in Woods’ killing, supervisors David Campos, John Avalos, and Jane Kim also spoke out against the department’s actions — all called for a “meaningful police reform.”

“San Francisco does not have the police department it deserves,” said Campos.

On Tuesday, Breed’s promise was met with applause from a packed City Hall chamber that included activists from the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, as well as Woods’ mother, Gwendolyn.

“Somebody tell me, why are [the officers] back at work? Why?” asked Woods, addressing the board, through tears. “They killed my child.”

Breed’s resolution is a step toward meeting the demands of the coalition, which has also called for Police Chief Greg Suhr’s firing and murder charges for the involved officers. The board will vote on the resolution in two weeks.

Coalition members who addressed the board criticized the police department as well as the city for its inaction and lack of compassion in notifying Woods’ family of his death, and pointed out that this is a pattern that occurred in other cases in which officers shot and killed members of the African American and Latino communities.

“When I think about December 2, I think about [Woods] seeing her son gunned down on social media, about how she went to three different locations to get information about her son and she was rejected each time,” said Shawn Richard of the anti-violence group Brothers Against Guns. “See this mother’s pain. We can do more at the board of supervisors … to support Ms. Woods.”

“The silence among some has been deafening – it should never have taken the mayor of this city five days to speak. And a month later, she has still not heard from this man,” said Christopher Muhammad, the San Francisco Bay Area minister of the Nation of Islam.  “Something’s very wrong when a mother cannot get a call from the father of this city.”

Members of the coalition also accused the Police Officer’s Association of creating a climate of impunity that has prevented policy changes proposed in the wake of previous police shootings. They pointed to the cases of Nieto and Perez-Lopez as urgent examples of warranting a reform in police’s use of force policy.

“Don’t be intimidated by the Police Officer’s Association,” said former San Francisco supervisor Dr. Amos Brown to the board members. “They have refused to talk with the African American community and thrown up a firewall in San Francisco. They need to come together and not turn on us in times of crisis.”

Breed vowed to take a stance against the association, acknowledging that the “colloquial atmosphere” of police and community relations must be improved.  “The Police Officer’s Association should be building bridges, not fighting those who are trying to help,” she said.  

Delivering emotional apologies, supervisors David Campos, John Avalos and Jane Kim took turns directly addressing Woods’ mother.

“There is nothing that will bring your son back,” said Kim as tears streamed down her face.  Though stating that she is committed to enacting changes in police policy, Kim said that “rogue officers” are not the only ones at fault. The City and County of San Francisco, she said, should also be held accountable. “We fund and train [the officers]. We are accountable for the police’s action, it’s not just the officers themselves that are to blame,” she said. 

Avalos and Campos also introduced a resolution declaring a day commemorating Woods that includes a formal apology to his family.

“What brought this resolution forward, was the way that the City and County of San Francisco has treated you and your family after everything that happened,” said Campos. The Mission District supervisor said he found it “disturbing” that this was not the first time he apologized for the conduct of the police department to the parent of a victim of an officer involved shooting.

“I’ve had the same conversation with the parents of Alex Nieto, who did not find out what happened to their son until a day or two later,” said Campos. “If we had gotten it right with Alex Nieto…we would not be here today.”

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