Reacting to last month’s fatal police shooting of Mario Woods, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed called Tuesday for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting and the San Francisco Police Department’s use-of-force policies.
Several board members also called for sweeping police reform and publicly apologized to the victim’s mother, Gwen Woods, who attended the meeting and addressed the board.
Breed introduced a resolution, with the support of Supervisor Malia Cohen, requesting the Department of Justice “undertake an independent investigation.” The shooting of Mario Woods “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,” the resolution says.
The request was backed by community leaders like Rev. Amos Brown, Bay Area Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Muhammad and Brothers Against Guns founder Shawn Richard.
Since the Dec. 2 shooting of Woods, 26, there remains persistent calls for the firing of Police Chief Greg Suhr. Mayor Ed Lee’s inauguration Friday was interrupted by protesters chanting “Fire Chief Suhr.” Woods was the suspect in a stabbing, and police said he was still armed with the kitchen knife used in the incident when the shooting happened. Suhr’s defense of the shooting during a community meeting has intensified the outcry.
An emotional Gwen Woods addressed the board, talking about her son and explaining her deep roots to the community. “We were born and raised here,” she said, adding that San Francisco’s past was more diverse and “embracing.”
“Every time I wake up in the middle of the night, I see my son in this stance being shot down like an animal,” Woods said. She used the term “animal” in reference to language used by police officers in recently disclosed racist texts. The officers who sent them were not involved in the Dec. 2 incident.
Gwen Woods said without change and holding officers accountable, “Somebody’s baby is going to die the same way.”
Breed said an independent review was necessary to restore the trust between the police and the community. But criticism of the department and implementation of change is met by strong resistance by the politically influential San Francisco Police Officers Association, who has defended the officers involved in the shooting.
“The Police Officers Association should be building bridges, not fighting those who are trying to help,” Breed said, adding, “We will not be intimidated by the POA.”
Gary Delagnes, a consultant for the Police Officers Association, said he could “care less” about Breed’s request. “It’s political posturing. It’s grandstanding,” he said, adding, “How can you ask for reform before you’ve heard the conclusion of the investigation?”
There are three ongoing local investigations into the incident being conducted by the Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Office of Citizens Complaints.
Mayor Lee’s spokeswoman, Christine Falvey, said in an email, “There are numerous ongoing investigations and the mayor welcomes independent review.”
It remains unclear if Breed’s resolution would actually prompt an investigation. The Justice Department did not comment about the request and on what basis it may be reviewed.
Breed said San Francisco needs to follow Chicago’s example. The U.S. Department of Justice investigated the October 2014 shooting by Chicago police of Laquan McDonald and broadened its investigation upon request by state officials to examine the police department’s operations.
The board’s discussion of the Police Department will resume Jan. 21, when a board committee holds a hearing on use of force by officers. Also on that day, the committee will vote on a separate resolution introduced by Supervisor David Campos, which officially extends condolences and an apology to Gwen Woods as well as supports police reform.
“We do not have at this point the Police Department that the city and county of San Francisco deserves to have,” Campos said.
The full board could vote on Breed’s resolution as early as Jan. 26.