The controversial case of a black man who was killed in a hail of bullets by San Francisco police came to a head at a tense public meeting Friday night, where The City’s police chief claimed the officers shot the man in self-defense.
Chief Greg Suhr told the crowd of about 100 gathered at City College of San Francisco’s southeast campus that Mario Woods had extended his arm while holding a kitchen knife and moved toward an officer during the incident in The City’s Bayview.
Witness videos of the police shooting of Woods, 26, have been posted to multiple social media sites since the Wednesday afternoon incident, reigniting the national conversation around police brutality.
The crowd erupted in disbelief when Suhr said an enhanced version of one video showed Woods moving toward the officer with an extended arm. According to Suhr, that interaction prompted the officer in front of Woods to open fire in self-defense and four other officers also fired to protect their colleague.
“We were able to enhance one second of the tweeted video… which shows the officer engaging with Mr. Woods and Mr. Woods’ arm with the knife outstretched,” Suhr said. “The officer fearing for his safety… he fired in defense of himself and the other four officers fired in defense of that officer.”
But the audience members who spoke at the forum rejected Suhr’s version of the incident. Many called for him to quit or be fired, and asked that an external investigation be launched.
Tensions were simmering among members of the crowd, who felt the killing was just the latest among numerous cases of excessive force used by police. “If it had happened to yours, this whole city would be shut down,” Sala Chandler told Suhr. Chandler is the mother of Yalani Chinyamurindi, one of four young men shot and killed inside a car in Hayes Valley in January.
Ronnishia Johnson, of Bayview-Hunters Point, brought with her a list of demands to the meeting. To much approval from the crowd, her list included that there be independent investigations into the fatal shooting, that the names of officers involved be released and the officers be charged with murder.
At least one member of Woods’ family was in the audience — his cousin Lateefah Barnes, who burst into tears throughout the evening. The families of other men shot and killed by police — Alex Nieto and Oscar Grant — were also present.
Suhr offered those in attendance an explanation of the fatal afternoon, which angered the audience.
According to Suhr, the incident began just before 3 p.m. when Woods was seen by three witnesses walking back and forth on Third Street yelling and talking to himself.
Woods then reportedly began to yell at a male witness who was in a car with two women, asking if he was going to call the police, Suhr said. “Woods tried to open the car door at which point the victim opened the door,” getting out to move Woods away.
“Woods came towards him with a large knife, he consistently swung the knife in the face and the neck of the victim,” allegedly stabbing him in the left bicep, Suhr said.
The man ran away from Woods while losing blood and was driven to San Francisco General Hospital. Around 4:30 p.m., police were flagged down and a witness pointed to a knife-carrying Woods at Third and Keith street, Suhr said. Woods reportedly would not drop his weapon when told to by police and officers fired less-lethal bean bags at him several times in response.
When he approached an officer, he was shot and killed, Suhr said.
Suhr said the police investigation into the shooting is ongoing and the officers’ actions have not been deemed justified or within department policy.
If his son were Woods, Suhr said “I would be as angry as everybody else,” but would let the investigation finish before placing judgement.
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