Mario Woods has become famous in death, through the grainy cellphone footage of his killing at the hands of San Francisco police — a death that went viral online, along with his name and face.
Woods since then has been cast as one of two kinds of people: a victim who now stands alongside numerous cases of a black men killed by police who used excessive force — or a figure with a criminal past who, while holding a knife, was fatally shot by police.
Neither of those ways of looking at Woods, noted many at his funeral Thursday at Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church in San Francisco’s Bayview, really captures the totality of who he was as a person.
Those who knew Woods painted a broader, more detailed canvas of his 26 years of life. They remembered a young man who read and appreciated the works of authors like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, along with civil rights intellectuals like W.E.B. Du Bois.
He also loved Japanese anime and Houston rap. His mother called him “Scooter Bug” as a small child because of the way he would scoot across the floor.
“When you tell his story, please be a little bit compassionate,” said his mother Gwen Woods as she looked up at members of the media gathered in the church gallery.
Woods’ mother and others called for people to remember that he was not simply another figure disseminated across social media. He was an individual, a human. “My child wasn’t an animal. My child was a good soul,” she said.
Aside from the hymns, eulogies and remembrances, the church was filled with a righteous anger, which was voiced by many. Eric Jones, who was a friend of Woods, read a poem questioning why no one was being punished for the killing — and why so much force was used.
The police “shot him 21 times and got a paid vacation,” said Jones of the five officers now on leave. “Mario got a body bag instead of a citation,” he continued. “Gunned down like a slave on a plantation.”
Wood’s killing, which happened across the street from the church, has sparked calls for reform in San Francisco policing practices. The incident has also been called San Francisco’s “Ferguson” moment by Black Lives Matter activists and others.
While those subjects were broached at Woods’ closed coffin funeral, mostly people spoke about the man they knew — a quiet person, but one who did not stand for cheating, even in games.
He had two brothers. His father died some time ago.
Woods was also a man who went astray, but had served his time. He was released from prison in September. Much of that past has been covered by media outlets following his Dec. 2 death, and many at the funeral asked what that past had to do with his death.
As his mother put it: “How come a person… can’t do their time and be redeemed for it?”
Christian Muhammad, who passed along condolences from the Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan, said Woods was killed because he was a black man who would not get on his knees.
“Mario died the death of a martyr,” said Muhammad. “Some people live and die for the greater good.”
Still, other voices simply spoke of solidarity with Woods’ family. James Caldwell, whose daughter captured Wood’s killing on her cell phone from a nearby bus, said his daughter is now linked with Woods.
“She was the young lady in the video screaming,” he said. “With that, she and Mario are forever connected.”