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National Lawyers Guild calls for SFPD accountability, not tasers

January 16, 2016

 

For the fifth time in recent years, SFPD, currently led by Chief Greg Suhr, formerly the captain at the Bayview police station near where Mario Woods was murdered, is calling for officers to be armed with tasers. Yet studies show that police armed with tasers use their guns more often. In 50 California police departments, sudden deaths increased 600 percent in the year after officers were armed with tasers. – Photo: Jeff Chiu, AP

For the fifth time in recent years, SFPD, currently led by Chief Greg Suhr, formerly the captain at the Bayview police station near where Mario Woods was murdered, is calling for officers to be armed with tasers. Yet studies show that police armed with tasers use their guns more often. In 50 California police departments, sudden deaths increased 600 percent in the year after officers were armed with tasers. – Photo: Jeff Chiu, AP

 

The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) condemns the killing of Mario Woods by San Francisco police and opposes Chief Suhr’s proposal to provide officers with tasers as a supposed solution to deadly police shootings. Instead, city leaders must prioritize the use of non-weaponized crisis intervention teams, stepped-up police accountability mechanisms, and aggressive solutions to the displacement of working-class communities of color.

“The problem in San Francisco isn’t that the police don’t have tasers: It is vast inequality and a police force with a racism problem,” said NLG civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman. “Tasers won’t solve the real problems, and it’s been shown that they don’t reduce police shootings like those that killed Mario Woods.

“Chief Suhr’s call for an additional weapon for SFPD is a transparent attempt to shift the focus away from the completely unjustified nature of this tragedy. Despite the chief’s claims, the video evidence shows that multiple officers riddled Mario Woods with bullets when he posed no imminent threat.”

“The problem in San Francisco isn’t that the police don’t have tasers: It is vast inequality and a police force with a racism problem,” said NLG civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman.

Chief Suhr has intentionally attempted to mislead the public about the Mario Woods shooting, thereby undermining his credibility and the credibility of any internal investigation of the Woods shooting. After the shooting, Chief Suhr claimed that bystander video showed Woods, who police say was carrying a knife, extend his arm toward one police officer, prompting the shooting.

“Chief Suhr’s call for an additional weapon for SFPD is a transparent attempt to shift the focus away from the completely unjustified nature of this tragedy.

But the video evidence actually makes clear that Woods’ arm only came up as his body was recoiling after he had been shot. Even if Mario Woods was armed with a knife, the shooting was unlawful and violated SFPD’s own policy, which limits use of firearms to situations when the officer or others are in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

Rather than giving the police tasers, Chief Suhr and Mayor Lee must address racist policing. The numbers are stark. Black adults make up only 6 percent of the adult population in San Francisco – a number that has been shrinking for decades – but 40 percent of those arrested, 44 percent of those booked into jail and 40 percent of those convicted.

Ironically, Chief Suhr blamed the SFPD murder of another young man, Alex Nieto, the previous year on Nieto’s taser, which was required for his job as a security guard.

Ironically, Chief Suhr blamed the SFPD murder of another young man, Alex Nieto, the previous year on Nieto’s taser, which was required for his job as a security guard.

 

“From Blacks being over-represented in our criminal justice system to the texting scandal from last year, and now the new revelations of racism and sexual harassment by officers working on Operation Safe Schools, it is clear that racism is a big problem in the SFPD,” said Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the NLGSF. “Mayor Lee’s recent memo to the Board of Supervisors falls far short of addressing these grave problems, and giving officers a new weapon, tasers, will only mean that people of color will be more likely to face electro shock in addition to arrest, prosecution and conviction.”

Studies have shown that adding tasers as a weapon for officers has, in some cases, had no effect on the number of officer-involved shootings. A 2009 UCSF study, using aggregate data from 50 cities, in fact showed an increase in such shootings.

Rather than giving the police tasers, Chief Suhr and Mayor Lee must address racist policing.

Furthermore, tasers are dangerous and painful. Amnesty International says tasers contributed to 540 deaths between 2001 and 2013. These weapons cause excruciating pain; they override an individual’s nervous system, paralyzing muscles and causing the individual to fall and lose control of bodily functions. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has declared that the use of tasers is a form of torture.

The NLGSF believes that Suhr should retract his false claim that Mario Woods raised a knife before being shot. He must explain why SFPD failed to release public information on the officers’ history of misconduct, while immediately releasing information about Mario Woods’ criminal history.

Suhr should also address his failure to discipline, in a timely manner, the officers involved in racist, sexist and homophobic texting. Finally, Suhr and Lee must address why officers with histories of misconduct are being allowed to police San Francisco neighborhoods.

NLGSF Executive Director Carlos Villarreal can be reached at carlos@nlgsf.org.

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