San Francisco is currently facing a police shooting scandal that has rocked the city and made national headlines. On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Mario Woods was reportedly shot 15 times by police officers and killed in the neighborhood of Bayview-Hunters Point. Woods, 26, was allegedly holding a kitchen knife when officers approached him late that afternoon, claming he matched the description of a stabbing suspect in the area. Who was Mario Woods?
The Bayview-Hunters Point native reportedly had mental health issues but was working to improve his life before he was shot by law enforcement, according to his mother, Gwendolyn. Prior to the incident, Woods had taken a job with UPS and had only just received his uniform. Neighbors and friends described Woods as a warm, caring man who "wouldn't hurt a fly." He did, however, have a criminal history that began with gang and gun charges in his youth and spanned well into adulthood. He was released from prison in Sept. 2014 after pleading guilty to gang-related crimes and robbery with a weapons enhancement, having served just over half of a seven-year prison sentence. Woods was one of over 20 in his neighborhood to be named in a controversial gang injunction of the Oakdale Mob in 2009, reportedly labeling him a gang member for life.
This incident has prompted a full investigation as well as community meetings meant to start a dialog between law enforcement officials and the public they serve. Public defender Jeff Adachi was highly critical of SFPD, calling for accountability of the officers who responded. Adachi had this to say in a recent interview with local PBS affiliate KQED:
I understand that officers are trained to kill, but if we are going to expect ordinary citizens to only shoot and kill people where they believe they are in danger of being killed themselves, we should hold police officers to a similar standard. Based on what we see in this video, it does not look like the officer who fired the fatal shots was in immediate danger of being killed.
However, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said that police on the scene first used non-lethal police tactics, such as bean bag rounds and pepper spray before shooting. The chief said the officer fired "in defense of himself," and the other four officers who discharged their weapons "fired in defense of that officer," SF Weekly reported. Suhr has asked the community to let the investigation continue.
A vigil and demonstration was held to honor Woods' memory as well as call for justice on Thursday. As with many of the recent incidents of officer-involved shootings, what unfolded between Woods and SFPD was caught on video. A bus full of passengers witnessed the incident, including Bayview resident and SFSU student Christian Hernandez, whose graphic Instagram footage has since gone viral. A memorial has also been set up in the spot that Woods was reportedly shot at and a GoFundMe has been set up by his family to help pay for funeral costs.