Friday, May 20, 2016

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr Out After Cops Kill Unarmed 27 YO Black Woman

Ex-SFPD Chief Greg Suhr - [Photo]
Not to end the week on a down note but the San Francisco Police Department is on some kind of tear lately and it's not a good one.

The department was already under fire because of the shooting of 45-year old Hispanic resident  Luis Gongora, who was killed back in April.

And an embarrassing scandal involving police, including high-ranking officers, who were discovered to have been regularly exchanging racist, misogynist and homophobic text messages.

On Thursday police chief Greg Suhr was forced out just hours after an as-yet unnamed SFPD sergeant shot and killed a 27-year old unarmed African-American woman while he and another officer were trying to get her out of a stolen vehicle she'd just crashed.

Specific details on the incident are still a bit scarce, but she was shot in the very same Bayview neighborhood where Mario Woods, a 26-year old African-American man was shot and killed by SFPD cops just months ago back on December 2, 2015.

SFPD victim Mario Woods
According to a February 9, 2016 account of the incident by, Woods had been seen talking to himself and walking back and forth along a sidewalk when he approached a vehicle and attempted to reach into the passenger-side window; the SFPD report said Woods appeared to be under the influence of something.

The 26-year old male occupant of the vehicle opened the passenger-side vehicle door to try and push Woods away and Woods took out a knife and slashed the man across his left arm.

Police were called to the scene after the victim went to a local hospital and reported the attack.

The officers who responded eventually cornered Woods a short distance from where the attack occurred and ordered him to drop the knife.

Officers made four attempts to disable him with non-lethal bean bags fired from special guns - one officer also tried using pepper spray, but Woods refused to drop the knife.

According to a police report, Woods then began trying to walk towards a crowd of onlookers when five officers, Charles August, Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips opened fire and struck Woods with between 15 and 20 shots, killing him.

Judge for yourself, take a look at the video of the shooting (don't worry, it's not bloody, but you can clearly hear the shots and see Woods walking just before the five officers unload on him - he is clearly NOT walking towards the crowd in a threatening way at all - nor is he waving a knife.

In fact on audio heard on one of the two different cell phone videos of the shooting taken by a bystander at the scene,you can clearly here a female pleading for Woods to just drop the knife and surrender and another eyewitness to the shooting can be heard saying "Why did you shoot him? He was literally just standing there!" immediately after the shooting.

Do you think that was an appropriate use of deadly force?

Was Chief Greg Suhr a convenient scapegoat for the numerous uses of excessive force by officers under his command over the past 18 months? Possibly.

New SFPD Chief Toney Chaplin
As the New York Times reported yesterday, a number of San Francisco's influential African-Americans including former Mayor Willie Brown and local N.A.A.C.P head Rev. Amos C Brown, were supportive of Suhr and his efforts to introduce reforms in the police department.

But Suhr had been under fire before, including in 2015 when the city paid a $725,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed against Suhr for mishandling a harassment investigation.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced that Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin, a 26-year veteran who is African-American, would succeed Suhr as Chief.

It's sad to see what some of the officers within the SFPD are doing to the police culture, and the resulting effects on the people and the perception and reputation of San Francisco as a community.

I've visited San Francisco five times between 1989 and 2011 and while I was mostly in "nice" neighborhoods, or hotels and venues in high-traffic touristy areas of the city, and probably was never there long enough to get a genuine feel for the city, I always found it a comfortable and welcoming place to visit in terms of culture and racial diversity.

It was once known as a liberal-leaning progressive West Coast city welcoming to other cultures and sympathetic to the homeless.

Protesters block busses carrying Apple employees in 2013
In recent years San Francisco has earned a reputation as a mecca for the influx of a young (mostly white and Asian) affluent tech-class demographic who make their money in places like Cuppertino, California working for Apple, Google, or in the city's expanding high-tech industry where companies like Twitter have received generous tax breaks for locating there.

That's sparked a range of protests by affordable housing advocates since 2012.

Is the SFPD's culture of hostility towards African-Americans and Hispanics a reflection of that?

San Francisco has become yet another desirable coastal city where rapid gentrification has driven rents into the stratosphere, pushing large numbers working and middle class residents out; leaving an increasingly two-tiered urban environment protected by a police force who increasingly seem to view non-white people with suspicion and fear.

A police force (one of only two in the United States with populations over 500,000 that do not issue tasers to its police officers) whose tactical decisions to use deadly force on people of color in the past two years now merit federal investigation.

The SFPD needs to take a long hard look at itself, systematic departmental self-examination that cannot be mandated, but must come from within.

Best of luck to new Chief Toney Chaplin in that regard, will he be an agent of that change, or maintain the status quo?

Based on the frequency of killings of people of color in the past 18 months by the SFPD (five that we know of), time will certainly tell.

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