Protesters seeking justice for Mario Woods rally on the steps of the Hall of Justice on Dec. 18, 2015. (Connor Hunt/2015 Special to S.F. Examiner)

One year after Mario Woods’ death, much has changed in SF

One year ago today, San Francisco and beyond collectively gasped as the video of the police killing of Mario Woods spread across the internet and social media.

The images seemed to say it all: A young man, hunched over and trying to somehow get away from the group of officers surrounding him, was shot down in a fusillade of gunfire as nearby bus passengers screamed for the shooting to end.

The Dec. 2, 2015, Bayview shooting death of 26-year-old Woods — he’d stabbed a man just before he was killed — was called death by “firing squad” by Mayor Ed Lee at the time.

The killing set off a long period of protests, reforms and reaction that The City is still feeling. Soon after the incident, city leaders, with determined protesters at their heels, began pushing forward a package of reforms, which included calling in the federal Department of Justice to investigate the Police Department.

“The case has brought forth significant social issues related to the police around the issues of use of force,” said civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing the Woods family in a civil rights lawsuit filed against The City. Burris added that, on balance, it has had a “positive impact on improving the quality of policing.”

But the subsequent year brought more than simply policy changes at the department. Former Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned in May following two more fatal police shootings, and a new use-of-force policy was adopted the next month. Even more so, the tone of The City seemingly changed when it came to police and, especially, the Police Officers Association.

A year before, the mere mention in a resolution of such issues in The City’s Police Department was met with heavy opposition from the Police Officers Association.

That opposition remained in 2016, but it seemed to matter less.

For example, Mario Woods Day was declared and celebrated for the first time on July 22, Woods’ birthday. And Thursday, the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee supported the creation of a memorial for Alex Nieto, who was shot and killed by police in Bernal Heights Park in 2014.

Additionally, The City’s police oversight body has been given expanded powers, and investigations into police shootings will now be handled by the District Attorney’s Office.

Still, many of the demands from protesters were not met. The District Attorney has not charged the officers involved with Woods’ death and no independent investigation have been launched.

“You have three reports all saying the same thing: that black folks in San Francisco are not being treated the same,” said Phelicia Jones with the Justice Four Mario Woods Coalition. “There is no justice. Black lives don’t matter here in San Francisco.”

While a civil rights lawsuit in federal court is ongoing, the push for police reform has lost much of the steam it once had as city officials seem to have lost their energy around the issue and the ranks of activists once pushing for the same have thinned.

More broadly, the administration of President-elect Donald Trump — who repeatedly touts his pro-police stance — has signaled it has no taste for continuing the law enforcement reforms championed by President Barack Obama.

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