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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Angry Citizens Call S.F. Police Review a Charade

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal panel of experts tasked with reviewing San Francisco's police department was greeted by a crowd of angry residents Wednesday night, many of whom denounced the process as a charade.

After a fatal police shooting last December, Mayor Ed Lee invited a division of the Department of Justice to conduct a voluntary, collaborative review of the city police department.

During the first public meeting of that process Wednesday night, several community members called for an independent probe into the shooting death of Mario Woods and a full civil rights investigation of the police department.

     "The whole process here is to cover the asses of these politicians," lifelong San Francisco resident David Carlos Salaverry said at the meeting. "We need to move past this dog and pony show to a real investigation with real teeth."

Noble Wray, of the DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office, which is conducting the review, said that though recommendations resulting from this assessment cannot be enforced by law, "the court of public opinion" will help ensure the recommendations are put in place.

Wray told residents the voluntary review process does not preclude the DOJ from launching a full civil rights probe into the police department.

"The reason we're saying that's always on the table is because they're still monitoring what's going on here in San Francisco," Wray said.

Several citizens who spoke Wednesday night identified themselves as members of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition. Woods, a 26-year-old knife-wielding stabbing suspect, was shot dead by five police officers in the city's Bayview neighborhood on Dec. 2 last year, leading to protests and calls for Police Chief Greg Suhr to resign or be fired.

Community members broke into chants of "Fire Chief Suhr" and "Justice for Mario Woods" throughout the Wednesday meeting at Thurgood Marshall High School in the Bayview neighborhood.

Phelicia Jones, a member of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, laid out three demands, which were repeated by other speakers throughout the night. Jones demanded that Suhr be fired, that the officers who shot Woods be charged with murder, and that the federal government launch an independent investigation into Woods' death.

Jones tallied up the nearly 50 bullets that were fired at another San Francisco police shooting victim, Alex Nieto, with the 27 shots fired at Woods last December, arguing that more than 80 bullets police fired at two young men of color demands more than a mere voluntary review.

"This is just putting lipstick on a pig and telling us it's Beyonce," Jones said. "Eighty-eight shots deserves an investigation and not a review board. This is not an investigation. This is window dressing."

Some citizens offered specific suggestions on how law enforcement accountability and police-community relations could be improved in the city.

Jackie Flin, executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor and civil rights advocacy group, suggested the department use data collection to track the number and races of people stopped by police to help combat racial profiling.

"Our young people are targeted because they are seen as troublemakers," Flin said. "They are stopped and searched at an age when they don't know their rights."

Elouise Joseph, a pediatrician and mother of three who runs an after-school program called the All Stars Project, praised a New York City program called Operation Conversations: Cops and Kids, which uses performance and dialogue to help police officers and young people connect with and understand each other.

"In New York, the police and young people come together and see each other as human beings," Jones said. "I think we need something like that here."

Adrian Tirtanadi, executive director of Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal, a nonprofit legal aid service, told the review panel some horror stories of his clients' interactions with police.

One police officer retaliated against one of his female clients for exercising her right to record, he said. The officer seized her phone, deleted the video and falsely charged her with assaulting an officer.

"Luckily, the video was uploaded to the cloud and recovered," Tirtanadi said. "It showed she never touched the officer."

The collaborative review process will play out in three stages over the next two to three years, said Nazmia Comrie, COPS site manager for the SFPD review.

The first 8-to-10-month stage, called intake and initiation, will seek feedback from the community and police department to set goals for the review process.

The second 8-to-10-month stage, the assessment phase, will feature meetings and interviews with stakeholders, focus groups, community listening sessions, review data and policies, observe training procedures and ride-alongs with police officers.

The final 12-to-18-month phase, mentoring and implementation, will assess the department's progress in implementing recommendations made in the final report issued at the end of stage two.

The next community meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, March 8, 6 p.m. at Mission High School and Thursday, March 10, 6 p.m. at Gateway High School.

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