Dramatic Divide Between Cops, Protesters at S.F. Police Commission Meeting

San Francisco police officers in plainclothes walk past a line of uniformed officers and out of a Police Commission meeting Jan. 20. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

San Francisco police officers in plainclothes walk past a line of uniformed officers and out of a Police Commission meeting Jan. 20.
(Alex Emslie/KQED)

By Alex Emslie
KQED

There was more than one crowd gathered to speak about the fatal officer-involved shooting of Mario Woods at Wednesday’s meeting of the San Francisco Police Commission, and the division was palpable.

In one corner, a group of about 100 off-duty San Francisco police officers stood with their union reps and attorneys. Groups calling for a federal investigation into the Woods shooting and murder charges for the officers involved filled the other side of the room.

The Dec. 2 shooting captured on bystander video wasn’t on the commission’s agenda, but it has dominated San Francisco law enforcement and general city politics for almost two months, with a growing contingent calling for Police Chief Greg Suhr’s resignation and criminal charges for the officers involved.

But leaders of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the union representing officers, have said the shooting was a lawful use of deadly force. They have urged those angered by the video to await the results of multiple ongoing investigations.

Three black SFPD officers who answered the POA’s call to attend Wednesday’s meeting addressed the commission.

“Have you ever held a mother in your arms while she cried uncontrollably, while her loved one was taken?” Officer Shante Williams said, struggling to speak over the crowd’s angry boos. The Chronicle reports Williams was at the scene of the shooting and helped render medical aid to Woods. “Have you dropped to your knees to administer CPR? Our actions show no color lines.”

Williams referenced comments of some city supervisors, including Malia Cohen’s statement days after the shooting that the officers were an “ethnically diverse firing squad.”

“We are not a diverse firing squad,” Williams said. “We put our lives on the line every day. We take physical and mental abuse every day. Yet we come back day after day because this is our calling. We just ask for the Police Commission not to pass judgment, to not become another Ferguson.”

After three officers spoke, the union’s contingent of mostly off-duty police walked out of the meeting.

“We’re not going to waste our time listening to all this crap,” former POA president and current union consultant Gary Delagnes said outside the meeting. “Other people give these protesters credibility; we don’t. This is nonsense.”

Delagnes said the union planned to respectfully leave the meeting after “we said what we needed to say through our minority officers.”

“We in no way want to discredit the Woods family or Mario Woods any further, but we are being backed into a corner,” he said. “The officers that were involved in this shooting, they deserve to have the real facts come out and that’s what’s going to happen. And this was the start of it.”

Among the new disclosures Delagnes said would come out in the coming weeks is a statement Woods allegedly made just before officers shot him.

“It needs to go through the media with documentation and verification, not just me,” he said, “from police reports that people have never seen, from statements from the officers that people have never seen.”

One Woods supporter said the POA employed “intimidation tactics” at the meeting.

“I have no respect for them at all,” said Shawn Richard, the head of an anti-violence group and spokesman for Woods’ family. “It makes them look like they a gang, and that’s not cool. You want to holler about gangs in different neighborhoods and different cities, and then you walk in here like a gang and walk out like a gang? The difference is you got on suits and ties.”

Richard reiterated the call for a federal investigation into the shooting and criminal charges for the officers involved.

“And I want to see policies and procedures changed within the San Francisco Police Department and fixed for what’s right for the African-American and brown community,” he said.

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