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News + PoliticsProtesters jam Police Commission meeting

Protesters jam Police Commission meeting

Four hours of testimony challenges chief on Bayview shooting

The Police Commission meeting was so packed that a long line formed outside
The Police Commission meeting was so packed that a long line formed outside

By Sara Bloomberg

DECEMBER 10, 2015 — Enough is enough.

That was the rallying cry from the community last night during a San Francisco Police Commission meeting, where commissioners listened to around four hours of public comment about the use of police force and the shooting of Mario Woods.

Pain spilled through the microphones and into an overflow room as people spoke at City Hall, while around a hundred people were lined up in the hallway outside of room 400, waiting to get in. Their chanting reverberated back into the packed meeting room, as public comments continued inside.

“Fire Chief Suhr,” they chanted throughout the evening.

Protesters also demanded that the names of the officers who shot Woods be released, and there were calls for an independent, external investigation into the shooting.

Many people drew comparisons to recent police shootings in Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago. Tension is building up in San Francisco, they said. “Civil unrest is coming because of you. What’s happening here is getting ready to spread. I suggest you resign,” said Oscar Grant’s uncle, known as “Uncle Bobby,” said, directing his remarks at Chief Greg Suhr.

Many called on Chief Greg Suhr to resign
Many called on Chief Greg Suhr to resign

Teachers expressed frustration that they can no longer reassure their students that they’ll be safe on the streets of San Francisco.

“You are radicalizing and politicizing” our kids, a teacher from Balboa High School said.

Many people talked about their own trauma from encounters with the police, from surviving being shot at themselves to losing their sons to a police shooting.

“It’s really sad that these meetings are routine,” said Felicia Jones, of SEIU Local 1021. “When are we going to have a dialogue?”

After hearing about two hours of public comments, Commission President Suzy Loftus called a brief recess when a woman refused to stop speaking after her two minutes were up.

During the recess, Suhr was spotted leaving the meeting room and was then suddenly chased down the hall by a group of protesters. Minutes later, he came back, surrounded by a couple dozen protesters chanting “fire Chief Suhr” as he fought his way back into the meeting room.

After two more hours of public comment, the commission responded and stressed that their job this evening was to listen.

“Viewing that video has eroded trust. We all wish it had ended differently,” Loftus said. “Tonight we’re having an initial discussion on the use of force.”

The other commissioners agreed that the video of Woods’ death was disturbing.

“That thing was terrible. It was really bad,” Commissioner Joe Marshall said. “I’m sorry. When we look at the thing, it doesn’t make sense. Could we have done something else? If we could, why didn’t we? And if we couldn’t,” we need to change that.

Suhr acknowledged the need to revise the police department’s policy on use of force, which hasn’t been fully revised since 1995 (see:DGO5.01 “Use of Force” (Revised 10/04/95), pdf).

He talked about collaborating with other departments across the nation to find solutions. He talked about a need for focusing on de-escalation tactics, and cultural competency and implicit bias training. And he asked the commission to consider implementing the use of what he called “conductive energy devices,” the controversial devices commonly known as tasers.

He also said he had personally apologized to Woods’ mother for her son’s death and the way she found out about it (via social media).

But it’s pretty clear that the city and police have lost the trust of San Francisco’s Black community, whose population has been steadily declining since the 1970s.

Incomes of  African Americans in the city have fallen, too, as the rest of the population has generally profited from the tech-fueled economic boom.

And according to the US Census, African Americans account for less than six percent of the city’s total population. Protesters outside of city hall claimed to be the last three percent of Blacks remaining in the city.

“We are the last three percent of Black San Francisco, fighting for justice in this racist city,” they chanted.

Considering how small the Black community is, it’s even more appalling that Black men, in particular, are disproportionately targeted by police.

The commission even admitted that the Bayview neighborhood is used as a training ground for officers. In response, an audience member shouted out that they should use Pacific Heights, a predominantly white and affluent neighborhood, instead.

A former state peace officer stunned the room, and the commission, when he said that he never fired his gun in 30 years of service — and that he would intervene to de-escalate situations when his white colleagues behaved too aggressively.

Now a pastor at El Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in the Fillmore neighborhood, Keva McNeill said he was trained to use his gun as a last resort, and he called for new leadership in the police department.

He also told 48 Hills that transparency is vital for changing the why the police force operates.

Without any transparency, officers aren’t afraid of facing consequences for their actions, McNeill said.

When asked to explain the difference between his mindset and that of his white colleagues while on the job, even though they all received the same training, he said it came down to different “cultural perspectives.” McNeill is Black.

So, while revising use of force policies and tactics and implementing certain technologies like body cameras and tasers might help move the police department towards more accountability and fewer lethal incidents, it’s clearly not enough.

As long as there’s a lack of empathy between officers and the communities they patrol, as long as the police force is militarized, as long as officers are exchanging racist texts with each other, Black men will continue to die at hands of police officers.

The commission is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 3, 2016.

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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  1. Here you are, plopping your troll ass in the midst of ideas you oppose, and unable to contest the ideas on their merits, you actually think that you are able to shame people into changing the subject to civility?

    That’s what’s rude and disrespectful in the first instance.

    Fuck you!

  2. The usual suspect lefties don’t like me because I win debates against them and debunk their ideas and prejudices. I don’t fit their convenient but false stereotype that people on the left are smarter.

  3. No, you are an obsessive stalker who cries foul when someone does it to him

    Hypocrite. Maybe if you could develop some plausible arguments you would not have to use personal attacks as a first resort.

  4. No attack. Just providing background for others who are reading your posts. I don’t write about your racist post on every thread, only when it is pertinent to the topic, as it is on this thread. Have a good evening.

  5. Go fuck yourself, Nancy. If you think I would drive out to Bernal Heights just to desecrate the memorial of someone I don’t even know, then you’re even fucking dumber than you come off. Do us all a favor and troll somewhere else, you stupid cunt.

  6. yes, you are the most constructive person ever – people just don’t like debating with you because of the self-righteous arrogant tone; no “blind uninformed prejudice” here – just repulsion at what you spew

  7. You would have better feedback and influence here if you lost your obsession with stalking and insulting me, and instead discussed the topic.

  8. I know that Tim respects and appreciates the diversity and critical judgement that I confer upon this place, but nobody is special. All are welcome here.

    I decimate flawed arguments, but generally give a pass to flawed people.

  9. It was almost 7:30 at night in late March. The reasons so many shots were fired is that a second dispatch of officers mistook the other officers fire for Nieto’s. And he wasn’t killed by over 50 bullets. It was about 14. He had a history of mental illness, and a former friend of his took out a restraining order after Nieto had used a taser on him.

    Oh, and fuck you for suggesting I would desecrate a memorial to someone, asshole.

  10. i don’t seek to debate with you nor anyone else; I know you are Tim’s special person, but really, why spend so much time trying to decimate anyone you deem “progressive”

  11. it wasn’t at night, it did not require over 50 bullets to kill him, and it did not require the deadly force the police demonstrated – by the way, Nieto’s Memorial Altar was vandalized again on Bernal Hill, would you or Sam know anything about that

  12. Wrong. He had a taser, which, from the distance the officer were to him (and at night) could easily be mistaken for a gun.

  13. You’re not being un-pc, you’re just being rude, and a-hole. Quit pretending like you have values besides stirring things up. Get lost.

  14. Woods seemed to me to be moving around a lot which made me think he was agitated. Obviously we cannot know his state of mind or intent, except by inference.

    His arm looked raised to me but phone footage is not conclusive.

    The idea of non-lethal methods of stopping a BG is that they should work. But pepper spray, bean bags, rubber bullets and even tasers can fail to stop a determined crazed attacker. In fact even multiple shots on target can fail to stop someone unless they are head or heart shots.

    The only 100% certain way to stop a perp, unless you are lucky enough to get a brain shot, is to overkill i.e. multiple shots to the center of mass causing shock waves that instantly reduce the blood pressure. And that means death.

    I come back to this. Seems to me our society prefer a 100% probability that a BG dies to a 5% chance of a cop or bystander being injured. Unless that trade-off changes, cops will continue to use deadly force.

    If you had been the guy that Woods was approaching with a knife, would you want 100% certainty that the blade doesn’t reach you?

  15. Wasn’t there some dispute (KQED) about whether the arm was raised pre- or post-shooting?

    As I say, from what I can see, he doesn’t not appear ‘that’ agitated.

    I haven’t heard it described how many bean-bag shots were fired. (my guess – less than the # of bullets).

  16. As is often the case with these videos, they are grainy, indistinct and not conclusive.

    It shows the perp surrounded, which at first sight might lead to the conclusion that he was powerless. But it also shows that he was highly agitated and perhaps felt trapped and cornered, triggering a fight response.

    It clearly shows an arm raised and that he moved towards one of the cops. I can’t make out a knife clearly but every witness says he had one in his hand, so that is a given.

    So you are a cop and an agitated guy holding a knife in a raised arm, who has already stabbed one person, moves towards you. What are your options? Reasonable people can disagree on that but the guidelines appear to indicate that the prime directive is no harm to a cop or bystander.

    As you say, not easy.

  17. The agenda of white progressives here is highly suspect. I have seen no evidence that they associate with the people they are claiming sympathy for. Indeed, I suspect that the usual suspect white liberals here would cross the street rather than risk proximity to someone behaving like Grant, Nieto or Woods.

    Their agenda is, however, to undermine the police at every opportunity. Leftists see the police as guardians of success and prosperity. They believe that if they can weaken the police, they can undermine our capitalist society by driving a wedge between the citizenry and those who protect us.

  18. How is it my fault if others are not enthusiastically and actively contributing in the way that Tim is on record as saying that wants to see?

  19. Still, I think you have to look at the situation – and in this situation (accordiing to the video I’ve seen), Woods did not appear to be an imminent threat.

    There have been other shootings, even in the BV, and those seemed to follow a script that ‘he was a danger so we eliminated him’; and the reaction was close to none.

    The police don’t have an easy job. But they’re well compensated (V) – if not well trained. And yet they seem to feel they can act like someone out of the movies or a TV procedural. This was a force that didn’t even have email until last year, iirc.

  20. no, it’s more like your attitude that you must decimate anything Tim or “progressives” stand for that has people responding – and, your arrogance

  21. in the end, it is about police shooting SF citizens whose “acting out” is a great point of debate; Nieto’s “gun” was actually a burrito

  22. 1) If cops want to practice their crime-fighting skills, there is not a lot of point in them doing that in Presidio Heights or Seacliff, where there is very little crime in the first place. They need to go where the crime is, and Bayview is statistically up there

    2) State cops and county sheriffs police rural and suburban areas where, again, there is less crime and more modest types of crime. Violent crime is a feature of inner city areas and usually those areas with a large black or Hispanic population. The statistics are fairly clear on that.

    3) A force policy should not need to change that much because it is based on universal and eternal principles. Where it might need to change is because of technology, such as new weapons. Or where the threat changes, e.g. terrorism, mass killers, drug epidemics etc.

    Suhr handled this quite well, I thought. He calmly explained how this incident was within acceptable response guidelines. And he tolerated the disruptive rabble when it would have been entirely reasonable to throw out the troublemakers and conduct the meeting in camera.

  23. I fail to see your concern. Decomposing the statement (which is taken out of its broader context anyway) we have:

    1) “Gentrification is a positive transition”. You may disagree but such assessments are inherently subjective and reasonable people can disagree

    2) “causes some displacement of poorer POC”. Which almost everyone agrees is true. Gentrification displaces poorer people and often, but not always, poor people are more likely to be non white.

    Not an iota of anything negative or controversial there. Merely a commentary on some of the changes happening.

    Why not discuss the topic here instead of hurling flawed personal attacks at other commentators.

  24. “Political correctness is a verbal form of gentrification: spruce everything up, get rid of the ugliness in order to create a false sense of paradise.”

  25. “Political correctness is a verbal form of gentrification: spruce everything up, get rid of the ugliness in order to create a false sense of paradise.”

  26. “Political correctness is a verbal form of gentrification: spruce everything up, get rid of the ugliness in order to create a false sense of paradise.”

  27. Here’s the direct quote:

    Gentrification like that is a positive transition, even if it results in some displacement of poorer colored people of color,

    Wherever you are, you are always the same. Changing a login name doesn’t change personality or beliefs.

  28. Three facts from this article jump out at me.

    First, that the Bayview is a training area for new officers. Why should this be? It automatically escalates the risk of a deadly incident. I can understand why Bayview residents are really angry.

    Second, the comments from Keva McNeill, who said he never fired his weapon in 30 years of service as a state peace officer. I’ll bet there are SFPD officers who can say the same thing, but we still have deadly shooting incidents.

    Third, the SFPD relies on a 20-year-old use of force policy. How many large police departments can say that?

    Chief Suhr is on the hot seat, and justifiably so.

  29. Yes, the problem is that whenever racism is alleged, and someone tries to argue that that particular incident was not an example of racism, then that someone is often immediately accused of being a racist.

    It is an attempt to intimidate anyone who seeks to objectively determine if something really is racist by insinuating that even raising the question makes one a racist.

  30. Gentrification does not imply racism. The example being discussed was that of a white male tech worker buying a condo in the Mission and outbidding Hispanic people of color, thereby helping to displace them.

    That is an act of gentrification but not an act of racism.

  31. He just said he should be more respectful and civil. How did you get from there to ‘Would you prefer that people shoot killer cops?’ Actually, please don’t answer.

  32. I am glad to see that you now accept and acknowledge that the real disagreement there was about the respective merits and demerits of gentrification, which reasonable people can differ about.

    I agree that young black males are being shot a lot more by cops than, say, old white women. Where we differ is that you see that as racism. I see it as simply an inevitable manifestation of the fact that young black males conduct themselves in a way that makes them much more likely to be in confrontational situations with cops than white grandmothers.

    So the key question is this: Do cops shoot blacks in identical situations where they do not shoot whites? Or are cops shooting to a consistent standard in these situations and it just so happens that blacks are more likely to get themselves into those situation?

  33. Your complete comment: “Sammy, my near namesake, I support the right of marcos, or any other white male tech worker, to buy a condo in the Mission district.

    Gentrification like that is a positive transition, even if it results in some displacement of poorer colored people of color, who are probably more suited to be elsewhere long-term anyway. It helps uplift property values for all us, while reducing blight and crime, and creating a more liveable environment.

    marcos has my full support for his lifestyle choice to convert a rent-controlled affordable housing unit for white male tech worker usage.”

    Forgetting about the “colored person of color” part for a moment, your advocacy of gentrification and your projection that uplifts property values, reduces crime and blight could have been written by Justin Herman when he redevelop the Fillmore, which almost everyone considers to be a racist project.

    And why is race important? Because it is black men being killed by police. If you don’t see an epidemic of police killing of black males, including a 12 year old boy playing in a park, then you are part of the problem. The killing of Woods didn’t happen in a vacuum. The context is institutional racism, cops that text racist texts, etc.

  34. The “hail of bullets” thing is a little misleading. Cops opening fire is a binary thing. They either do it or they don’t.

    But once they start then things take on a life of its own. Once that perp crosses some line (justified or not) then the odds are that this won’t just be one shot. The “one shot and the guy falls over” is a TV/movie myth. The reality is that a bad guy can keep going and maintain a threat even if shot several times.

    When you consider that many shots miss and many more do not stop a BG, then it becomes a speculative matter how many shots it takes to reduce the risk to zero.

    Again, it’s easy sitting in an armchair and thinking that they could have done this or that. But when the guy comes towards you with a knife then you don’t have that luxury. It boils down to kill or be killed.

    A hostage situation is different. Typically the perp is holed up with a hostage and it is a standoff. In this case it was more a direct confrontation. What if the cops hadn’t shot and a cop was injured or killed? That is a worse outcome.

    Like it or not, the US has a zero tolerance approach to violent crime. If you engage in it then you know you will probably end up dead, unlike England or Japan. Them’s the rules.

  35. Well, maybe not the Black community, but Woods himself needs be held responsible – he did retain hold on the knife, when he could have easily dropped it.

    Still, I don’t see the need, in this instance, that he had to be killed in a hail of bullets at that time.

    Impatience on the part of the cops plays here. Sure, they want to contain and wrap it up. But they have to know (they do, don’t they?) that if guns are fired, the paperwork will take hours and some will go on Administrative for days. Whats the harm in playing this out an extra 45 min, 5 hrs? Haven’t we come a long way in Hostage Negotiations, where before it was a “shoot on sight”-type deal? Maybe they should have called Mama Woods, have her come down, scold the ‘boy’, and end the confrontation.

    I suspect that the motive of the cops (Union, Brass) is to be able to carry Tazers, which will give them much greater ways to threaten and be unaccountable.

    Surely this Woods incident was an anomaly in Dangerous Perpsville.

  36. Which is why I did not use that phrase. You are deliberately omitting words to try and make someone look bad. I used the PC phrase “people of color” and then amusingly added the adjective colored as a gentle piece of satire.

    You need to develop a freaking sense of humor and stop taking everything so damn seriously.

  37. Knowing how offensive and hurtful the words “colored people” are, regardless of context, you chose to use them and call it “whimsy.” That is racist.

    And then you accuse me of lying and say that I deserve to be stalked because we don’t agree about the meaning of your words.

    You should be excluded from civil society.

  38. Redundant? Yes. It was a parody of the kind of people who construct needlessly elaborate phrases on the off chance that someone somewhere might be slightly offended unless we are all impeccably precise about language all the time.

    It’s called parody. and not even remotely racist. It was whimsy. Even you can see that “colored people” and “people of color” are semantically identical phrases.

  39. I plead guilty to mischievously prefixing the term “people of color” with the redundant word “colored” as part of a whimsical parody of people who preciously overdo political correctness. But for hiker to then drop the “of color” and accuse me of using the “colored people” faux pas is disingenuous.

    Remember that Woods had already tried to carjack a vehicle and stabbed an occupant of that vehicle. He then continued to rampage the street with a deadly weapon. When police arrived he ignored their requests, and then fatally approached one of the cops with a knife in his outstretched arm.

    Shoot or don’t shoot? Reasonable people can debate that. But I think that society takes the view that they prefer a high probability of the perp being killed than a small probability of anyone else being injured or killed in situations like this.

    Finally, nobody believes that every black is a criminal. But equally everyone knows that the correlation between violent crime and race is not zero. Cops deal with bad guys all day, every day, and their instincts and intuitions on what demographics factors drive and correlate to crime and threats cannot be ignored.

    Cops do not go around shooting black nuns or grandmothers. They also shoot white guys when they behave the same. Most “victims” of police violence did something to warrant the adverse attention

  40. “colored people of color” … got to be V careful wading into the quicksand.

    But I too am appalled at this incident. Granted, Woods was not an angel – even if he was ‘sweet’. Still, he could have been dealt with without being killed (up til the pt he was killed, anyway). He doesn’t appear to be overly aggressive. Maybe there were too many cops on the scene. “too many cooks …”?

    As for the responsibility of the Black community, … yeah, but … its, of course, beyond SF, and there are ingrained habits on both sides that will need to be replaced. [I guess there is no real penalty for running from the cops, resisting arrests, talking back … . Some clear guidelines there might helpful.] As for assuming every Black person is a criminal … no – it may be beyond just having cops try to change their attitudes (the same thought crossed my mind – briefly – today after seeing a middle age, middle class Black woman on the street – that she was a criminal — where do we/I get this?.) But our actions are something we DO have some control over. Training and retraining. And maybe a general reset.

  41. You dropped “of color” from my words in a transparent attempt to alter the meaning. Then you cut short another sentence thereby totally changing its context.

    Liar. I can understand why you got stalked and had to change your handle.

  42. The words in quotes are cut/pasted from your comment. It is not a lie and I posted the link for all to see.

    I can’t debate the “Woods issue” because the issue is police using deadly force when it isn’t necessary.

  43. Sounds like your real concern is with frivolous lawsuits from ambulance-chasing lawyers and their opportunistic clients.

    I share your desire for tort reform.

  44. We pay, arm and defend the cops from lawsuits, that’s why I am concerned about the cops and not private citizens.

  45. Nor you, obviously.

    But if you are bothering to contribute to this topic at all, readers are entitled to see a serious effort made to explain your angle and agenda.

  46. Whether anger is justified has a lot lot do with whether the SFPD act was unjustified. Outside of this self-serving mob and a few usual suspect progressives (Redmond, you, hiker and, inevitably, Greg) I am not seeing much general outrage.

    The problem for those who are seeking to exploit this issue to spark civil strife is that the “victims” of these police incidents are invariably highly unsympathetic. If the cops had gone into a church and shot only black nuns and choirboys, you might have a point.

    But these guys (Woods, Grant, Nieto and so on) all acted out, disregarded clear police instructions, brandished weapons or acted in an aggressive and hostile manner.

    Why aren’t you angry about such blatantly hazardous and provocative behavior?

  47. It is okay to get angry and hateful to those who we pay and who execute civilians extrajudicially. That is not simply another minor policy disagreement.

    Have you no sense of proportionality and humanity?

  48. That shows that I did not say the words that you allege. You lied.

    I referred to “people of color” which is the PC phrase for non-whites. And I was suggesting that those who cannot afford SF might deem it a reasonable alternative to seek to live in more affordable locations, again entirely reasonable.

    Why not try and debate the Woods issue rather than attack anyone who disagrees with you?

  49. I can object to all kinds of things that offend me, from rent control to political correctness to black crime to NIMBYism, without getting angry and hateful towards those who hold a different view. To be able to debate political issues with those we disagree with while maintaining respect and civility is the cornerstone of a liberal and just society.

    Why do you feel you lack that ability? Why do you think these protesters lack that ability?

  50. There is nothing remotely racist about suggesting that this problem is more prevalent in the black community. Indeed, that is exactly what the black community themselves were saying.

    When you throw out lies and cheap, false allegatiosn of racism, it just reveals that you have no willingness or ability to discuss the issue objectively and maturely.

  51. Given your history of racist posts, including referring to “colored people”, saying that they “are probably more suited to be elsewhere long-term anyway. It helps uplift property values for all us. . .” your racist comment isn’t at all surprising.

  52. Chicken and egg. The black community needs to take some responsibility for so frequently getting themselves in these kinds of situations as well. Woods acted out, this mob acted out, and so the perception endures.

    And as noted, if the meetings are not orderly then let’s have no meetings. The meeting was for the benefit of the community so that they can better understand what happened. No loss to the rest of us if they want to sabotage that privilege.

    We can fine tune police tactics but at some point communities that produce such a disproportionate number of bad actors needs to start looking inwards for the source of and solution to the problem.

  53. Let there be no orderly meetings until Suhr is fired and the department’s highest priority is to immediately change policies and practices regarding the use of deadly force. And yes, tasers are better than being shot, but not in the hands of poorly trained police or police with anger-management issues.

  54. There is a way to make your point without shouting, disrupting and intimidating. These meetings are held so that people can be educated on what happened and why.

    This unruly mob should be more respectful and civil, or they might find that there won’t be any meetings in the future.

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