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News + PoliticsMayor suggests that police shooting was avoidable

Mayor suggests that police shooting was avoidable

Lee says better training and equipment might have saved the life of Mario Woods

Mayor Lee discusses the Woods shooting with reporters
Mayor Lee discusses the Woods shooting with reporters

By Tim Redmond

DECEMBER 8, 2015 – Mayor Ed Lee strongly suggested today that the police shooting of Mario Woods was avoidable and should never have happened.

Instead, he told reporters, the police were relying on training that doesn’t offer enough non-lethal alternatives.

Speaking to reporters outside the Board of Supervisors Chamber, Lee said he had watched the video of the shooting. When I asked him if he thought the officers could have avoided killing Woods, he said, “they are not trained for any other choice.”

In fact, he said, “it is an example of where we could rely on some alternatives to deadly force.”

Lee made clear he wasn’t just talking about Tasers, which Chief Greg Suhr supports. He suggested that equipping police officers with shields might offer another way to contain a suspect carrying a knife or another weapon short of a firearm.

Lee stopped short of saying that the officers did anything wrong. Although the incident is still under investigation, Suhr has essentially said that the officers acted properly, telling a community meeting that they fired in self-defense.

The video shows at least six officers surrounding Woods. The man is walking away, slowly, when the first of what appear to be 19 shots are fired. Suhr says that he had raised his arm and was carrying a knife in his hand. A KQED analysis (check out the link above in this story) notes:

However, a careful review of the short Instagram video Suhr referred to suggests that officers opened fire a fraction of a second before Woods’ arm moved. In slowed-down versions of the video, the first shot is clearly audible before Woods extends his arm. In addition, in the moment Woods’ arm moves, his body appears to be moving backward, as if recoiling from being struck by a gunshot.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez in the Ex points out:

What does it matter if we give officers riot shields, if they still believe their best method for survival in the face of violence is a firearm? We need to wean the SFPD off relying on the gun as the solution for all problems, especially knives. …

Right now, SFPD use-of-force policy embraces an “escalating scale of options” in its Department General Orders. If a suspect raises fists, the police raise a baton. If a suspect pulls a knife, SFPD points a gun. The police must always escalate, in this system, for public and personal safety.

This is how Woods died. His kitchen knife inevitably drew a hailstorm of bullets.

In other countries, where the police are less reliant on guns, officers manage to subdue armed suspects without killing them.

In San Francisco, like most US cities, if an officer draws his or her gun, it’s supposed to be a situation that calls for the use of lethal force. That means the cops don’t fire once to knock someone down; they shoot and shoot and shoot until he is dead.

While he didn’t criticize the shooters who killed Woods, Lee did make it pretty clear that he thinks this could have been avoided. If that’s because the SFPD needs to overhaul its training manual and procedures, if the cops need shields, or if, as Joe Fitz suggests, we need to change the culture of the department, the bottom line is the same:

A San Francisco resident is dead, for no good reason. Even the mayor can’t deny that. We can debate policy forever (and why does it take such a clear example of a shooting that should never have happened – and was recorded on video – to make this change? Why didn’t we do it years ago?)

But in the end, I have to ask: What is Ed Lee going to say to the family of Mario Woods?

Protesters plan to appear at the Police Commission meeting Wednesday/9, meeting outside City Hall at 5pm.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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