On December 2nd, 2015, five San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers surrounded Mario Woods, a 26 year old black man in the Bayview Hunter's Point neighborhood of San Francisco, and shot him 19 times, resulting in his death. Mario's death was video recorded by several witnesses. Many of the witnesses were children who were on their way home from school.
The videos are shocking because they clearly demonstrate that Mario could have easily been apprehended without dying. They also show the officers aiming at his head from the beginning of the incident, demonstrating that they intended to kill him.
Four months since Mario's death, and other than a lot of hot air being expelled, nothing has changed.
One would think that Mario's death alone would be sufficient to prompt reform- but there's even more evidence that SFPD needs a complete overhaul:
In the last two years SFPD have unjustifiably killed three young men of color.
Amilcar Perez Lopez, an immigrant from Guatemala who did not speak English, was shot by SFPD four times in the back, once through the arm and again through the back of his head on February 26, 2015 in the Mission District.
Alex Nieto, a Buddhist City College student who planned a career as a probation officer, was struck by 14 to 15 bullets of a total of 59 shots fired by four SFPD officers at Bernal Hill Park on March 21, 2014.
Both of these young men did not deserve to die and could have been apprehended in another way if the officers involved valued their lives.
Systemic racism in San Francisco law enforcement is well documented
At the 2015 Justice Summit: Race & Reform San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi pointed out that Black people make up 6% of the population of San Francisco, and account for 56% of the people in San Francisco jails. African American women in San Francisco are 17 times more likely to be stopped in their cars by a police officer than white men. And a black young person is 50 times more likely to be incarcerated in San Francisco than a white young person. Adachi said San Francisco's track record of racial disparities in criminal justice compares unfavorably to Ferguson's.
In 2011 and 2012, SFPD officers sent racist and homophobic text messages that were discovered by SFPD's Internal Affairs bureau in an unrelated investigation. Internal Affairs did not take action and the statute of limitations for police misconduct ran out. The text messages came to light because one of the officers involved was successfully prosecuted for corruption. But the other officers remain on the force.
And just this week, more racist and homophobic texts between officers mocking the public outcry about the previous texting scandal were revealed by District Attorney George Gascon.
One needs only to spend some time on the SFPD Police Officers Association website to get a sense of why so many officers exchange racist and homophobic texts without any sense that doing so is unprofessional and inappropriate as a law enforcement officer.
Oversight of SFPD is ineffective
Oversight of SFPD is provided by an appointed Police Commission. At the January 20th 2016 Police Commission meeting, SF Police Officers Association arrived en masse, armed, in plainclothes, and blocked and tried to intimidate the community. After three police officers testified, they left en masse, shouting "this is how we win, show of force."
In a lifetime of attending public hearings, I have never witnessed a group of public officials behave so much like a gang as I did that evening. What made it even more inconceivable was that it took place in front of their Chief and oversight body. The officers who came to that meeting demonstrated no respect to the public or their oversight.
In January 2016, a police management panel and Chief Greg Suhr cleared all five SFPD officers involved in Mario's death to return to work, placing them on desk duty.
Public officials' actions have been insufficient to hold SFPD accountable
Currently San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is investigating whether the SFPD officers violated the law in Mario's death and has not yet announced charges, if any.
District Attorney Gascon is on record calling Mario's death "unnecessary" during a meeting with the Justice4Mario Woods Coalition on January 14, 2016 and the SFPD "systemically racist" during his testimony to the Blue Ribbon Panel on February 22nd, 2016, the panel he appointed to review whether there is evidence that the SFPD officers involved in the Textgate scandal exhibit a pattern and practice of discrimination.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on January 26, 2016 calling for the US Department of Justice to investigate Mario's death but did not file a complaint with the US Attorney General. They also enacted a resolution declaring his birthday, July 22, to be "Mario Woods Remembrance Day in San Francisco."
In February, 2016 Mayor Lee and SF Police Department Chief Greg Suhr invited the US Department of Justice Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) office to "collaboratively review" SFPD.
The review process will take two years to produce recommendations that are unenforceable.
Mayor Lee and the SF Police Commission announced changes in use of force policies on February 22nd, 2016.
Despite the growing body of evidence that SFPD needs dramatic reform, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee continues to support Chief Greg Suhr and believe that current oversight is sufficient.
One may wonder, since reforming SFPD is not a priority, what has Mayor Lee been focussed on? Please note, these tweets are just for the month of March, for further news of what he is up to, follow @mayoredlee
So while our Mayor auditions for an appointment in the Clinton administration, SFPD's culture of racism, arrogance, and impunity grows stronger.
One wonders when the next police shooting will occur.
This is unacceptable.
Someone needs to ensure the safety of the people of San Francisco.
Who will that be?