Gwen Woods, the mother of slain 26-year-old Mario Woods, is comforted during a vigil at the spot where her son was shot by police on 3rd Street in the Bayview. San Francisco is honoring Mario Woods’ memory today, as declared by the Board of Supervisors. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

Mario Woods remembered in San Francisco

For the past six months, San Francisco has been transfixed by protests, reform efforts within the Police Department, hunger strikers and the resignation of The City’s police chief.

Much of that action was sparked by the killing of Mario Woods at the hands of police last December, which sent shockwaves through San Francisco that are still felt today.

Activists and members of the Board of Supervisors were outraged and appalled by the slaying — so much so that in late January, the board unanimously passed a resolution to declare Woods’ birthday “Mario Woods Day.”

Today marks the first Mario Woods Day in San Francisco.

From the start, Mario Woods Day was contentious. In February, the San Francisco Police Officers Association helped pay for an online petition to repeal the day of remembrance.

“The signed petitioners DO NOT want to honor Mario Woods on July 22 or any other day,” the petition read, pointing to the fact that July 22 is the same day that Hayward Police Sgt. Scott Lunger was shot and killed during a traffic stop in 2015.

At the time, former POA President Gary Delagnes wrote in a Facebook post of his disgust for the board’s vote to create Mario Woods Day.

“This is, without a doubt, the most disgusting, idiotic, and pathetic legislation I have ever seen in my 35 years of POA involvement,” Delagnes wrote. “To honor a street thug who stabbed another African American is so far over the top I am speechless.”

The police union is planning its own Day of Remembrance today in honor of public safety officers, particularly to acknowledge the five officers in Dallas who were fatally shot at a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this month.

In addition to the Dallas officers and Lunger, the ceremony will honor San Jose police Officer Michael Katherman, who was killed last month, San Francisco firefighter Lt. Vincent Perez and firefighter/paramedic Anthony Valerio, who died five years ago, the four Oakland police officers — Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Sgt. Ervin Romans and Sgt. Daniel Sakai and Officer John Hege — who were fatally shot in the line of duty seven years ago, and San Francisco police Officer Nick Birco, who was killed a decade ago.

The ceremony in honor of police will be held at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, 1 Yacht Rd. Guests are asked to arrive between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition is planning an event today at 5 p.m. at Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church, across the street from the site of his killing in the Bayview.

Woods was shot 20 times by five SFPD officers — Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Charles August, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips — who were responding to reports of a man with a knife, according to SFPD and the Medical Examiner’s Office. The officers encircled Woods, who was backed against a wall, and began firing when one of the officers “engaged” Woods, whose arm was “outstretched” with the knife, said then-Police Chief Greg Suhr.

At the time of his death, Woods, 26, was a suspect in a nearby stabbing and was reportedly holding a knife when he was killed, according to police.

Woods was later found to have methamphetamine and antidepressants in his system, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

The shooting was captured on cellphone video by multiple bystanders and was shared across social media. Suhr’s account of the incident greatly differed from many members of the public, who claimed Woods was posing no threat to police officers.

Earlier this year, prominent civil rights attorney John Burris said the officers used “excessive” force and that Woods’ autopsy confirmed he was not acting aggressively, since he was shot numerous times in the back.

The City Attorney’s Office filed a motion in February claiming the officers who fired at Woods acted within the law and were justified in doing so.

Fatal police shootings, especially those involving black men, have become increasingly frequent since Woods’ death. Recent killings in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn., have added to an already violent year for police, who have subsequently been targeted in recent fatal shootings themselves.

Black Lives Matter protests across the nation, and local demonstrations by groups like the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, have continued to push for police reforms.

Supervisor Scott Wiener said while this is a difficult time for police and community members alike, many hopeful reforms are already underway.

“I think there is good momentum toward reform,” Wiener said. “I think we are in the middle of a very challenging period in terms of police community relations and I am confident we will get through this difficult period and come out of it stronger.”

Supervisor David Campos took a different stance on the status of reforms amid concerns around policing.

“The point of the day was to take the time to think about police reform, and not just the Mario Woods incident itself, but all the things that have happened,” Campos said. “But I don’t know if much has changed as of reforms at the Police Department. You still haven’t seen the kind of progress you would think.”

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