By Alex Emslie
A contingent of about 200 protesters shouted through parts of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s inauguration speech Friday, calling for the ouster of Police Chief Greg Suhr in the wake of a fatal officer-involved shooting last month.
The Justice for Mario Woods Coalition is calling for an independent investigation into the Dec. 2 incident in which Woods was shot approximately 20 times by five SFPD officers. They say Suhr gave misleading statements about the shooting to justify the use of deadly force and they want him replaced. They also called for the officers to be charged with murder.
“We mean business,” said Felicia Jones, who identified herself as a leader of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition and a member of labor union SEIU 1021.
“You cannot continue to kill our people,” she said outside City Hall, after the inauguration. “You cannot continue to kill black and brown people here in San Francisco and think it’s OK. You cannot shoot down a human being, shoot him more than 20 times like he’s an animal.”
Sheriff’s deputies negotiated with organizers and allowed the majority to remain on the second floor of City Hall overlooking Lee’s speech, attended by several dignitaries and a large crowd of supporters.
But there were clashes. Deputies dressed in full riot gear advanced on the crowd when they first started chanting “Fire Chief Suhr,” long before Lee took the stage. They backed off when organizers calmed the contingent, but swooped in to detain individual protesters.
A Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said 10 people were detained during the inauguration for “disturbing the peace in a public meeting.” They were detained for a matter of minutes, she said, and released without arrest.
Friday’s protests are just the latest in escalating outrage over the Woods shooting, which was captured on video by several bystanders.
Police said they approached Woods because he was suspected in a stabbing that occurred earlier on Dec. 2. Suhr said days after the shooting that Woods appeared to advance toward one officer with a knife and raise his arm before the first shots were fired, an account the video seems to contradict. A KQED analysis found that the video evidence appeared to be at odds with the SFPD’s explanation of what happened.
Lee, Suhr and the city’s Police Commission have promised sweeping reforms to SFPD’s use-of-force policies in response to the shooting. Police leadership are traveling to Washington, D.C., next week to seek guidance in reworking when officers are allowed to use their firearms from a national research organization, and Suhr requested a thorough review of the department from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
The department has also ordered more “less-lethal” weaponry and plans to renew a bid for officers to be equipped with electronic stun guns commonly known by the brand name Taser.
An SFPD spokeswoman told KQED Tuesday that the officers who fired at Woods had returned to duty but were assigned to non-patrol positions.