Activists of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition expressed their frustrations with the police department's voluntary review of by the federal Justice Department during a public meeting on March 8. Photo by Laura Waxmann

A Department of Justice panel holding forums throughout the city to gauge citizens’ opinions of local police practices didn’t get far on Tuesday night before loud and angry feedback cut in. Activists said the panel has no capacity to enact change and amounts only to window-dressing.

Addressing a crowd of about 100 people gathered in Mission High School’s auditorium, Department of Justice consultant Kenneth Bouche asked what issue with the city’s police force had brought them to the public hearing.

Bouche hardly finished his sentence before protestors and community members holding up “Justice for Mario Woods” posters erupted into shouts of “Murder!”

Wednesday’s meeting at the school at 3750 18th St. was the second of three “listening sessions” held by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a division of the Justice Department.

Following a series of officer-involved shootings of Latino and Black men in San Francisco, public outrage cumulated in protest after 26-year-old Mario Woods was shot by police more than 20 times in the Bayview last December. The incident was caught on video and earlier this year prompted Mayor Ed Lee to call for a formal review of the police department’s training and practices by the Justice Department.

The two lines of commenters waiting to speak spanned the aisles of the auditorium. Those who had come to express their concerns with current police practices criticized the federal review, which they said lacks urgency and is ultimately powerless in making changes. They demanded that the Justice Department send its Civil Rights Commission instead to effectively address what they called a corrupt system.

“Who called you to our city?” asked Daniel Landry, who represents the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition. “This city is on the verge of explosion. We want [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch to answer to us why this city isn’t being investigated by civil rights division.”

“This whole thing smells like hell,” said coalition member David Carlos Salaverry, addressing the COPS panel. “You guys are being played by being sent out in front of angry crowds and trying to do the what is appropriate for a little suburb, but not for a city with a history of corruption such as San Francisco.”

Salaverry echoed Landry’s request for an investigation by the federal Civil Rights Commission instead. “Send us the Civil Rights Commission — make that message go up the food chain.”

As speakers switched off, members of the coalition intermittently chanted “Justice for Mario Woods.” Many accused the police department of racism and alleged cronyism within San Francisco’s justice system.

“You need to aim higher. The rank and file officers are the least of the problem,” said Tom Selhorst, referring to the San Francisco District Attorney’s past decisions not to press charges against officers involved in police shootings and policies that have protected officers from criminal undergoing investigations. “The [police chief] himself has a history of breaking the law, and when you break the law you get promoted in this town.”

Speakers representing the coalition were consistent in their demands for firing Police Chief Greg Suhr, and called for reform of the police department as well as an independent investigation into Mario Woods’ death.

“What we want is accountability,” said Michael White, a member of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition. “Every time there is a murder by the cops, the first report we get is that the person who died lunged at the police, until in later reports it turns out that they did not. This happens every time someone is murdered by SFPD.”

Many speakers also referenced the ongoing civil trial of Alex Nieto, who was shot by four police officers in 2014.

“Yesterday we had the city attorney badgering the mother of Alex Nieto, showing no compassion,” said speaker Francisco Da Costa, pointing to a “rogue mentality of those who have been conditioned” within the justice system.

Ken Bouche, a law enforcement consultant for the Justice Department, looked on as community members addressed police brutality in San Francisco. Photo by Laura Waxmann

Throughout the three-hour meeting, the panel of experts patiently faced each speaker, but remained largely silent. In an effort to show that public input was valued, the speaking time had been extended from two minutes to five minutes at the beginning of the session, causing the hearing to stretch well beyond the allotted time.

Mission High School students were also present at the hearing, and some took to the microphone to share their fears stemming from police interactions.

“As a black man in America I’m terrified of the police … I should not feel this way,” said Hatim Mansori, a Mission High School senior. “I’ve been stopped in the streets and they told me to respect the officers, but that’s a threat in a way.  A lot of us youths don’t know our rights and so they are exploiting that.”

Mission High School counselor Taffany Jones-Davis spoke to a culture of fear and mistrust among minority youth towards the police that is reinforced by the way officers view and treat them.

“Last week, officers came into Mission High after an incident and began to accost students who fit the profile, without checking in with the office. [The students] should feel safe at school,” said Jones-Davis. “These are psychological scars that need more than a bandaid, and that’s all these meetings are.”

Mission High School senior Hatim Mansori (left) said that he fears racial profiling by San Francisco police officers. Photo by Laura Waxmann

Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, told the panel that she had long worked to address police brutality, offering solutions such as Crisis Intervention Training for officers, but that policies currently in place have prevented the full implementation of training alternatives.  

“We pushed for CIT but it hasn’t come in place. The general orders haven’t changed, so police are still given orders to use force rather than verbal de-escalation,” said Friedenbach. “There’s a huge opportunity for change at this moment we have to change the use of force guidelines.”

District 9 Supervisorial candidate Edwin Lindo was one of the last speakers, but delivered a perspective that resonated with many in the auditorium.

“Forty-four percent of people arrested are Black … less than 80 African American high school students are graduating this year. That’s the direct pipeline to prison,” he said. “If those numbers don’t scream out at you perhaps our entire system is morally corrupt.”

“I hope you’re here to find the facts to send back to D.C. that we are bankrupt in justice,” said Lindo.
A third and final community meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on March 10 at Golden Gate High School, located at 1430 Scott St.

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  1. Ricardo, you are plain wrong. While I agree, there are a ton of crappy teachers out there, education starts at home. Teachers have no chance when kids show up never having been read to or disciplined. ANother 1/3 or so may not even speak English and many are malnourished.

    A child with dedicated parents is better off at a school with crappy teachers vs. a child with crappy parents being in a school wih great teachers.

    Your comment about racist education system is very false. Did Mario Woods and Nieto show up to school ready to learn every day? Where they read to on a nightly basis for the 5 years before they got to school? Where they told to respect authority and that the teacher is in control and to respect them? When homework was assigned, did the parents make sure that their children were doing it? Did their parents tell them that education is importatnt and that they had to have a certain grade level or they would be punished? If parents do all of these things, even crappy teachers will not hold the student down. Education starts at HOME!

    Or are you saying you know that Woods and Nieto had racist teachers that held them down and made them worse students? What exactly do you mean by “racist education system”?

  2. These people are just the vocal minority. The true problem is the racist educational system. The police just deal with the ramifications. Teachers let down Mario Woods and Nieto. Hiring liberal wacko teachers has only made it worse. Dropout rates for blacks is rediculous. Teachers should be in jail.

  3. Thanks for this report on last night’s meeting, rendered so ridiculous by the feds and City leaders from the day they announced this b.s. commission. How good could it be if Ed Lee is standing next to the feds saying the commission is the answer to SFPD abuse and killings?

    Also, much gratitude to the activists and family and friends of Mario Woods who took the time to be at Mission High and send a loud and clear message to the commission!

    But it’s not just this body that is being touted by Law Enforcement Inc as a solution to police problems. Another scam commission is corrupt DA Gascon’s alleged cop accountability and transparency blue ribbon panel. It’s nothing more than a p.r. stunt to build Gascon’s resume for running for mayor or state attorney general.

    Read my rant about just a few of the problems with corrupt Gascon and his panel.

    http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/2016/02/da-gascons-sfpd-transparency-panel.html

    Monday, February 22, 2016
    DA Gascon’s SFPD Transparency Panel Breaking FOIA Laws?

    Ambitious political animal and San Francisco’s district attorney George Gascon last year established the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement. He received a bit of gushing media coverage with no questions asked by reporters regarding open govt laws applying to the panel.

    For some odd reason, the Justice 4 Mario Woods coalition is doing PR work for Gascon by promoting the panel’s meeting today, Monday, February 22, from 2:30 to 5:30 pm at the main branch of the public library at Grove and Market Streets. The Facebook page for the meeting raises no questions about the panel, which surely pleases the DA’s office.

    Gascon alone picked the panelists, hardly a sign of community involvement or transparency, and the leader of is Anand Subramanian of the nonprofit, PolicyLink, which has posted a two-page explanation detailing how the DA controls this process. They claim, “The Panel is operating as a passive meeting body pursuant to San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 67.4”, and that law states the following:

    “(1) Such gatherings need not be formally noticed, except on the City’s website whenever possible, although the time, place and nature of the gathering shall be disclosed upon inquiry by a member of the public, and any agenda actually prepared for the gathering shall be accessible to such inquirers as a public record.”

    Gascon’s site contains no agenda for the meeting today and no agendas for previous hearings, and forget about any minutes. This lack of sunshine over Gascon’s alleged accountability and transparency panel is the basis of my complaint filed today with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

    Bear in mind, the SOTF’s recent annual report labeled Gascon as woefully ignoring his open govt enforcer duties: “The District Attorney’s office has failed to respond to any referral for enforcement from the Task Force, including a failure to provide any explanation to the Task Force or the underlying complainant. Enforcement of the [Sunshine] ordinance is essential to protecting the public’s right to open government.”

    The only addy for the panel is not one with an “@sfgov.org” email and it is where I’ve sent this letter, requesting more info about today’s meeting and raising necessary questions about the supposed independence of this body and why the Justice 4 Mario Woods coalition is shilling for the DA.

    Let’s hope cop accountability activists bring much-needed scrutiny to the PR ploys of Gascon. I’ll let you know when a reply comes from the blue ribbon panel’s addy:

    “Who are you, the person who handles this addy, SFBlueRibbonPanel@mto.com, and are you a staffer for Gascon and his DA office? I am concerned that Gascon is using this panel to further his own career.

    “He set up the panel, decided who would serve on it and so far has not posted any agendas of previous hearings or minutes of them. Why are there no community members on the panel and only judges, selected by Gascon, who will issue a report at some unspecified date. Alarms are going off in terms of, um, accountability and transparency, that there is no public agenda or anything of substance about Gascon’s panel on the DA’s site.

    “Just a press release announcing the expansion of the panel last year, http://sfdistrictattorney.org/district-attorney-expands-taskforce-investigating-officer-misconduct, and nothing about who the other members of the panel are. On Gascon’s opening page, http://www.sfdistrictattorney.org/, there is an alert about the three hour Feb 22 meeting and no agenda shared with the public.

    “Curious to learn who operates this FB page, https://www.facebook.com/events/192345617794311/, is it Gascon or the friends of Mario Woods?

    “Frankly, as someone who had Gascon gear up the law enforcement machinery against me in 2012/2013, and who has taken him to task at the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force for numerous transparency violations, I think Gascon is part of the police/law enforcement accountability problem and not a key player toward solutions that serve the community.

    “Do you really think the former head of the SFPD gonna deliver genuine cop accountability, especially he’s refused to indict any cop-killers? Questions need to be answered about the lack of transparency with Gascon’s panel. Exactly at what time tomorrow is public comment and who’s running the show at the library, the community or Gascon? Answers please!”