San Francisco Chronicle
Photo: Santiago Mejia, Special To The Chronicle
December 9, 2015 Updated: December 9, 2015 11:09pm
An angry and frustrated crowd called for Chief Greg Suhr’s resignation Wednesday at the first Police Commission meeting since the fatal shooting of Mario Woods.
Hundreds packed the hall outside the commission meeting room at City Hall, drowning out much of the public comment with chants of “Fire Chief Suhr!” Many lined up to speak as sheriff’s deputies kept the crowd from entering the room, which was at capacity before the meeting was even called to order.
Suhr indicated he wanted to ask the commission to reconsider equipping his officers with stun guns because he believes that had officers had the devices, the encounter with Woods would have ended differently.
“We don’t want to talk about Tasers and shields,” Archbishop Franzo King said during public comment, which lasted more than three hours. “What has happened has to be answered in a forthright way. If the chief continues to defend the right to kill and slaughter people on the street under his command, then he becomes a co-conspirator to murder.”
Woods was fatally shot by at least five officers in the Bayview neighborhood on Dec. 2. Police said he was armed with a kitchen knife that he had used in an earlier, nonfatal stabbing, and that officers had no choice but to shoot him when he refused to drop the weapon, despite previous attempts to disarm him with less-lethal beanbag rounds and pepper spray.
Fury over death
Some of the meeting attendees spoke of Tasers and other less-lethal devices, but the majority expressed fury over Woods’ death, which was caught on video that was widely circulated on social media.
They called his death an execution, and just the latest in a series of similar killings of men and boys of color at the hands of police officers nationwide. They accused Suhr and the Police Commission of not caring about the lives of the black community.
Many local black leaders spoke, with Oakland organizer Cat Brooks calling for the community to take to the streets to force reform and local NAACP President Amos Brown sticking with his call for sensitivity training.
The Rev. Arnold Townsend, vice president of the local NAACP chapter, said he hadn’t planned to speak, but “I have to say something just so I can live with myself.”
“I got a boy, he’s 26 — not much different than Mario Woods,” he said. “I’m 72 and I’ve been black all 72 years. Because of that, I know that my son can suffer the same end. And he’s a good dude. He’s a good man. But I know how it works.”
The crowd outside only got louder and angrier as the meeting continued, chanting every time the door opened: “Let us in!”
But inside the meeting room, many expressed a deep sense of betrayal, having worked closely with members of the commission and the Police Department throughout the years only to be met with what they described during public comment as inaction and indifference when they needed them the most.
Jeff Stewart, who said he was a cousin of Woods, criticized Commissioner Joe Marshall, who has long worked with the youth in the city’s underserved communities through the Omega Boys Club, a youth development and violence prevention organization.
“I believed in you,” he said. “I was an Omega Boys Club member when I was younger. I grew up listening to you. I grew up looking up to you. I’m sick of looking at you now. Every time I come to these public meetings, you looking like you’re so tired. I’m sick of looking at your … face.”
Chief takes the brunt
But the majority went after Suhr, echoing the chants from outside the room. Andrea Williams, a teacher at Balboa High School, addressed him as “Greg,” which she said he asked her to call him when they met in January.
“When we invited you to speak out at our Martin Luther King celebration last January, you spoke hope to our boys,” she said to Suhr. “You said we could believe in the fact that the system was going to be better if we do our part of ensuring that our students go to school, that they come from good homes, that they don’t fit a description. We had a personal discussion that day. You shook my hand. You offered jobs to my boys and girls.
“Back then in January, I thought I was at least talking to a human.”
The commission and Suhr remained mostly unresponsive throughout the meeting as community members yelled at them. The panel briefly recessed when Asale-Haqueenyah Chandler, a Bayview resident whose son, Yalani Chinyamurindi, was killed alongside three others in Hayes Valley earlier this year, went over her two-minute speaking allotment and refused to stop.
“You sit here and play games like you’re supposed to be helping us, but you haven’t given us justice,” she shouted.
Commission President Suzy Loftus said that Wednesday’s meeting was “about listening and the coming months will be about action.”
“We are starting the conversation tonight for one reason, and we heard it tonight over and over again,” she said. “I’ve heard it from my neighbors, from my friends, from my colleagues, from elected officials: viewing that video has rattled the trust that people, in particular the African American community, have in this Police Department.”
Vivian Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com