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Time for Lee to step up

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“I’m still not sure why the chief isn’t here,” Supervisor David Campos said this week. “I am very bothered.”

The occasion for the remarks was a committee hearing Thursday on alternatives to use of force by San Francisco police officers, called by Supervisor Malia Cohen in the wake of the killing of Mario Woods last month.

A representative from the San Francisco Police Department was on hand to say Police Chief Greg Suhr couldn’t attend the public meeting with city lawmakers because he was at another (unspecified) meeting “on the same topic.” It’s reassuring to know Suhr apparently is addressing the matter of how SFPD employs force, but it’s decidedly less encouraging to hear he does not regard a public forum on the issue a priority.

“He can’t be at two places at once,” said the officer sent to speak in the chief’s absence.

The helpful reminder of the laws of physics seem to send a clear message: Chief Suhr is taking care of the issue; the supervisors — and the rest of us — need not worry so much and ought to mind our own business and not be so nosey, thank you very much.

But since Woods was killed Dec. 2 in a hail of police gunfire on a Bayview sidewalk for failing to comply with officers, shouting at him to drop a knife, The City has had only increasing reason to worry about how the SFPD uses forces against those it wishes to subdue. And the department’s imperious response to any criticism has been distasteful.

It is our business to worry about such matters, and the sooner we, as a city, can discard our sense of urban exceptionalism — acknowledging that what happens in other cities in the country, the problems that ail other urban centers, can and do happen here — the better we be able to respond to the crisis at our doorstep. Too often we turn a blind eye to the suffering, abuse and discrimination within our city limits because such ills don’t fit well within our beliefs of what kind of city we are. We must stop these kind of delusions.

Thursday’s meeting came a week after Board of Supervisors President London Breed proposed a resolution to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Woods shooting, saying such an independent investigation was necessary to examine the SFPD’s use-of-force procedures as well as its treatment of African Americans.

Calls for Suhr to resign or be fired have gained currency in the weeks since Wood’s death. Suhr has been criticized for his comments after the incident, seeming to indicate the officers were within their rights to open fire on Woods. Suhr has denied he made any such claims.

Nonetheless, there has been much shouting and anger in the weeks since Woods’ death on both sides, but not a lot of meaningful dialogue or accountability. It’s past time for city leadership to take charge of leading this city. It’s clear that won’t come from within the SFPD.

The City needs Lee to step into this breach and push for the independent investigation he claims he supports. The Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote on Breed’s resolution in the coming weeks, but such a call needs the aggressive backing of the mayor to have impact. We fear Lee is only giving lip service to the idea of a federal Department of Justice investigation into the SFPD. He knows that without his advocacy, any hope of a closer look by the DOJ into the Woods killing will be DOA.

We hope Lee can prove us wrong and will take the reins to see that justice is done. The City needs a police chief and city leadership that responds to its citizens and doesn’t hide from them, hoping such troubles will go away. We hope we get the chance to apologize to Lee for underestimating him and that he will prove he’s really the mayor of the people of San Francisco.

We won’t hold our breath, but we’ll keep hoping.