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Badges don’t change need to say sorry

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Gwen Woods, mother of 26-year-old Mario Woods who was shot and killed by police on Dec. 2 in the Bayview, speaks to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday, January 12, 2016 (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed’s call this week for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate last month’s fatal police shooting of Mario Woods and the San Francisco Police Department’s use-of-force policies is a sensible move that The City as a whole should welcome.

Unfortunately, in the political climate of this city, where our leaders seem content to turn a blind eye to what happened on the Bayview sidewalk on Dec. 2, such a request is seen as “bold.” Mayor Ed Lee’s office gave tepid support, observing The City is already conducting many investigations into the shooting, but “the mayor welcomes independent review.”

The San Francisco Police Officers Association, which has defended the officers in the shooting, didn’t bother with such pleasantries, with consultant Gary Delagnes telling the San Francisco Examiner that Breed’s request was “political posturing” and “grandstanding.”

There should be no tolerance for this kind of heartless obstructionism. A man died, fatally shot by police officers on a San Francisco sidewalk. We would like to think we live in a city where those whose job is to care about how law enforcement is practiced would go to the ends of the earth to ensure police work is done ethically and professionally, for the benefit of the department and to give full dignity to those who wear the badge. We recognize that is not the city we live in, but the realization is painful.

Breed wants San Francisco to follow Chicago’s example: That city called on the DOJ to investigate the October 2014 shooting by Chicago police of Laquan McDonald, an investigation that grew to include examining the police department’s operations.

Breed’s resolution, introduced with the support of Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the Bayview, requests the Department of Justice “undertake an independent investigation” into the shooting of Woods, which “raised serious questions about the actions of the officers involved, as well as SFPD’s training and use of force protocols and its treatment of African Americans.”

We urge the full board, which could vote on the resolution by the end of the month, to stand together with a unanimous approval calling for the investigation.

Several supervisors on Tuesday also publicly apologized to the victim’s mother, Gwen Woods, who was at the meeting. Even though it was a gesture, it was overdue. The board should also back Supervisor David Campos’ resolution to officially apologize to Gwen Woods for treatment over the death of her son.

Those officers who surrounded Woods, who was holding a kitchen knife on the sidewalk that afternoon six weeks ago, appeared to show a blatant disregard for human life. When we talk about the need for police reform in this country and in this city, the real problem is that in the decisive moment, our police officers seemed to care less about a man losing his life than about getting a cut on their hand by trying to disarm him of a knife. If that proves to be the case, the officers let The City down, they let the department down and they let the Woods family down.

Yes, the family deserves an apology, and The City deserves one as well. Police officers are trained to allow us to feel safe and protected on our streets, and in this instance they produced the opposite effect.

We need the most thorough and independent investigations possible, and that includes calling on the federal government to be involved.

“We do not have at this point the Police Department that the city and county of San Francisco deserves to have,” Campos said this week.

We sadly agree. And we concur that a federal investigation is needed for a true independent review to see that justice is done.

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