Dozens of people gathered in San Francisco’s Bayview District today at a memorial service for 26-year-old Mario Woods, whose shooting death by San Francisco police officers earlier this month has sparked public outrage and spurred city leaders to reassess the Police Department’s use of force policies.
Family and friends, some of whom referred to Woods by his middle name, Keith, gathered for the memorial service at Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church on Third Street this morning, just yards away from where Woods was shot on Dec. 2.
Police have said five officers opened fire on Woods after he moved toward them with a knife.
Videos circulated widely on social media that appear to show Woods, who was thought to be a suspect in an earlier stabbing, limping away from officers at the time he was shot.
Police, however, maintain that Woods raised the arm holding the knife and appeared to pose a threat to the officers.
The number of bullets fired and the number of bullets that entered Woods’ body have not yet been released.
Attorney John Burris, who filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Woods’ mother, Gwendolyn Woods, said the death was unjustified and violated his civil rights. He said roughly 20 gunshot wounds could be seen on Woods’ body post-mortem.
White flowers were laid on Woods’ coffin while photographs of him as an infant and as a young man, along with more flowers, flanked the coffin.
Along with Woods’ family and friends, attorneys from Burris’ law office, Adante Pointer and DeWitt Lacy, spoke at the memorial service today. Around a dozen members of the media also attended following an invitation from Burris’ office.
Pointer said that while outsiders may be surprised by what police did to Woods, the African American community is not, adding that “you’ don’t have to travel to Ferguson” to see injustice at the hands of law enforcement.
“San Francisco,” Lacy said, “needs to know that this community will not stand for injustice.”
The service also included songs, interpretive dance and poetry.
One poem contained the lines, “Shoot me 21 times get a paid vacation,” and “gunned down like a slave on a plantation.”
The poem criticized the Police Department’s administrative leave policy, which has been interpreted by the community as a reward for officers who are involved in a shooting.
Members of the clergy spoke as well, saying that Woods “died the death of a martyr,” sending a message across the world.
Friends and family who knew Woods well told stories and said what they imagined Woods was thinking during the confrontation with police. They said he would have been amazed by the outcry of anger sparked by his death.
The program, distributed to those who attended the service, states that Woods was born in San Francisco, lived briefly in Houston, Texas and then returned to San Francisco, where he attended El Dorado Middle School, Martin Luther King Middle School and Balboa High School.
He was described at the memorial as a goofy man, an avid reader, and a music lover.
The incident has triggered a public debate about police use of force policies and prompted police Chief Greg Suhr and Police Officers Association president Martin Halloran to renew efforts to arm officers with stun guns.
“Let’s move on this, let’s move on it now,” Halloran said this week.
The Police Department also introduced a new directive earlier this month that requires officers to alert their supervisors if they draw their firearms.
In the wake of Woods’ death, Chief Suhr’s office and the Police Commission began looking at the department’s entire use of force policy to see how officers can be better equipped or trained to deescalate conflicts when they arise.
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News