The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution declaring July 22 as a ‘day of remembrance’ for Mario Woods, whose December 2 shooting by police officers could have been prevented, some board members said, if the city had taken action to reform police policies sooner.
While this resolution called for an official apology to Woods’ mother, a second resolution that was also unanimously adopted by the board during the January 26 meeting demands an independent investigation into the shooting. It also calls on the federal government to re-examine the cases of Alex Nieto and Amilcar Perez Lopez – contradicting police and witness testimonies have raised questions in both officer-involved shootings.
“What makes the pain and trauma of losing young people even worse is when we don’t get the truth,” said Father Richard Smith, who organized behind the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition. “There are so many unanswered questions in the killing of Alex Nieto and Amilcar Perez Lopez. We are not getting the truth out of our police department.”
Woods, whose birthday falls on July 22, was the most recent victim of a fatal police confrontation in the Bayview – cell phone footage that captured the 26-year-old’s shooting by five officers went viral, sparking local protests and resulting in San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s call for reform to police policy as well as an independent, federal investigation.
At the meeting, Lee said that policy reforms are “no easy task,” but that he has taken steps to rebuild the broken relationship between police and communities of color, including his request of the U.S. General Attorney for a full investigation into Woods’ death, and a “top to bottom” review of police officers’ training and use of force policies.
But organizers and city leaders agreed that Woods’ case is not the only officer-involved shooting that warrants federal scrutiny.
District 11 Supervisor John Avalos described the circumstances of Nieto’s death, who was shot on Bernal Hill by four officers in March 2014, and Perez Lopez, shot by plain clothes officers in the Mission in March 2015, as “dubious.”
Dubbed by some organizers as ‘Resolution 51’, the last item on the agenda was a resolution that Avalos re-introduced after it had been tabled for the past year.
In December 2014, following a nationwide outcry against police brutality, Avalos introduced the first version of the resolution aiming to address reforms to local police protocol regarding racial discrimination. The board faced opposition from the police union and voted against the original resolution.
This time, Avalos garnered full support from his colleagues and community members for reviving – and passing – the amended resolution that he said affirms a “commitment to police accountability and racial justice” within the police force.
“Its about acknowledging that our country is in an actual crisis of officer-involved killings,” he said. “We need to improve conditions for people of color in this city.”
Facing an audience of organizers, family and supports of both Woods and Nieto, Campos took responsibility for the city’s initial inaction on this resolution, stating that as an elected official, he could have done more to address the discrimination and flawed police protocol that came to light in the wake of Nieto’s death.
“I made the mistake with Alex Nieto. I made the mistake with Amilcar again … I did not do enough following (the shootings) to get to the bottom of what happened.” said Campos. “If we had gotten it right the first time, maybe we wouldn’t be here.
Woods’ mother accepted the board’s resolution and apology, and spoke out against “bullying tactics” that the board has somewhat publically experienced in its efforts of standing up to the influential Police Officer’s Association.
On Monday, the association took to social media to voice its disdain for designating a day in Woods’ memory, calling the slain man a “validated gang member” while accusing Campos and other board members of glorifying him. Woods was the suspect of a stabbing and carrying a knife while confronted by the officers who shot him.
“Sometimes you have to stand up and look life in the eye,” said Gwen Woods, addressing the board. “Not everyone can be bullied.”
“Mario Woods is a symbol for all of those who don’t have a place in history, who may have died nameless,” said Bayview Supervisor Malia Cohen. Campos added that the day of remembrance is symbolically intended to also honor others who have lost their lives in police confrontations.
Applause erupted in the packed City Hall chamber as Campos acknowledged Nieto’s parents, who sat in for the entirety of the four-hour meeting. “This day of remembrance is for them the [Nietos] too, it is for the family of Amilcar Perez Lopez, and I will note that while we welcome that the mayor is calling for a federal investigation, it shouldn’t be just limited to this one case. It should be to these cases [too].”
Protestors and activists in the Bayview, Mission, and other communities have been demanding such investigations for months. Several Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition organizers called the board’s decision on both resolutions “historic.”
Oscar Salinas, an organizer for the coalition, said that Campos’ admission of fault is key.
“Whenever you admit your mistakes and you are willing to learn from it, it’s important to the family, for healing,” said Salinas. “And for the mayor to be in agreement with the federal investigation is another huge step forward. This will be positive for the whole city, for future generations.”