With tears in her eyes, Board of Supervisors President London Breed today introduced a resolution calling for a federal investigation into the death of Mario Woods.
“San Francisco needs to follow Chicago’s example,” Breed said, referring to that city's investigation of the shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald at the hands of Chicago police. (And which led to murder charges for the officer involved, as well as the dismissal of Chicago's police chief.)
The board was actually still in roll call, but the meeting came to a halt for a series of guests to address the body — first among them, Mario Woods’ mother, Gwen Woods, who received a standing ovation from a chamber filled with supporters.
Mrs. Woods, so emotional she could barely be heard at times, likened the police officers who fired the shots that killed her 26-year-old son on Dec. 2 to those SFPD officers ensnared — but ultimately unscathed — by controversy over racist text messages.
“Every time I wake up in the night, I see my son shot down like an animal. Just like they said they were going to do in those texts,” Mrs. Woods said. “Thank you for the apology, but somebody please tell me, why are they back at work? Why?”
Amos Brown, former supervisor and current minister of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, was on hand to comfort Mrs. Woods and give the board a piece of his mind.
“We must stop living this lie that we are a liberal town,” Brown said. “I once stood in this room and said, ‘Ferguson is here.’ Geographically, we are on the bay. But in terms of the police — not all of them, but too many — we are Ferguson. And I was vindicated.”
[jump] Most of the rest of the board threw their names and words behind the measure as well. Supervisor Jane Kim wept herself while offering an apology to Mrs. Woods. “Mario Woods was shot by the police, but he was killed by the city of San Francisco,” Kim said. “We all need to accept our responsibility.”
“We don’t have the police department that San Francisco deserves,” said Supervisor David Campos. “This resolution is us saying, officially, that we need comprehensive police reform.”
Supervisor Eric Mar jumped in to have himself added as a co-sponsor on the resolution. Supervisor Malia Cohen, absent while traveling, submitted a written statement saying that independent investigation was needed for the community's peace of mind. Although the supervisors avoided naming police Chief Greg Suhr specifically, the Police Officers Association took a drubbing.
An outside investigation was one of the demands put forth by the Justice for Mario Woods coalition during a public demonstration at the mayoral inauguration on Friday. They also demanded that the officers involved be charged with murder, and (as always) that Chief Suhr be fired. Several rounds of the familiar “Fire Chief Suhr” chant broke out during the supervisors' meeting. Security didn’t bother to hush them.
The resolution doesn’t, on its own, add up to tangible action. But it signals that unlike, say, the death of Alex Nieto — killed by four San Francisco cops in 2014 and championed by Latino activists ever since but largely overlooked by the powers that be — Mario Woods isn’t going to leave the spotlight anytime soon. (Speaking to Mrs. Woods, Campos cited lingering guilt for not pursuing Nieto's death further.)
Anyone around City Hall or police headquarters hoping that the matter would quietly fade away is going to have to hunker down for the long haul — or radically change their approach. And, of course, if the feds do eventually come calling, all bets are off.
In separate business, Breed also presented long-planned legislation to establish a city fund paying out cash rewards (up to $250K) to anyone who provides information on cold case murders, if the tip eventually leads to an arrest. The city has occasionally offered and paid rewards to tipsters in the past, but there has never been an official policy in place or a designated fund to provide rewards.