by Rev. Harry Louis Williams II
Weeks ago, few had even heard the name Mario Woods. However, the sight of his shooting by officers of the San Francisco Police Department, brought to the world courtesy of YouTube, has made his name a rallying cry against police brutality in Northern California.
Cries for justice thundered in the halls of San Francisco City Hall, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Community members and activists filled the hearing room and later the overflow room. Testimony was heard by the San Francisco Police Commission.
Chief Suhr bore the brunt of the crowd’s anger. Voice after voice came to the microphone, some politely and others not so politely asking him to step down. A very well spoken child of about 6 years old was allowed to address the crowd. Her speech ended with a call for the police chief’s resignation.
Cries for justice thundered in the halls of San Francisco City Hall, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.
A spokesman for the late Alex Nieto’s family cried out from the witness stand, “You made the Black and Latino community come together!”
Several different community members cried out the following phrases: “You will not go to heaven!” “May the blood of Mario be on your hands and may the uprising that will follow be on your hands as well!” “You cannot just take a paycheck and let it kill your humanity!” “Everything is happening to poor people – but guess who’s watching? Jesus!”
Some of the most riveting testimony came from a local pastor who had retired from the police force after 30 years. It was the only time I saw a member of the commission actually break silence to question testimony.
The reverend said that police officers have to stop each other from committing wanton acts of violence. Commissioner Joe Marshall asked for an example. The former police officer told of an encounter where he found a policeman with a gun pressed against a suspect’s ear. The officer told the man, “Breathe, M.F.” The former policeman, now pastor, deescalated the situation.
The cries of angst and frustration went beyond the killing of 26-year-old Mario Woods. Citizens distraught about the gentrification which has decimated San Francisco’s Black community stood on the steps of City Hall and announced their displeasure.
The cries of angst and frustration went beyond the killing of 26-year-old Mario Woods.
However, it was the voice of Ms. Sala-Haquekyah Chandler that cleared the hearing room and forced the commission to announce a recess. Her son was working at Benihana’s Restaurant in Hayes Valley, San Francisco, on Jan. 9 of this year. On a break, he asked some friends to drive him to cash his paycheck so he could help his mother with the rent. They never made it there. All four of the young men in the car were shot to death. Yalani Chinyamurindi was 19 years old.
Ms. Chandler is no stranger to the folks at City Hall. She and other mothers of homicide victims make weekly appearances there, refusing to let city leaders forget their losses. They want word of what happened to their children. They want to see people prosecuted for the hell that has been unleashed on innocent families. These mothers want someone with authority in the city of San Francisco to whisper the words, “We care.”
I have embraced these mothers. I have seen their tears. What’s amazing is that there is no sense of outrage when their children are murdered. No one is going to storm City Hall. What is the difference? The cold truth is that more than likely they were murdered by someone who looks like us. To utter what I just said is to draw cries of treason from certain quarters. But as a good friend of mine says, “The truth is the light.”
I saw a young woman at the demonstration from the community that Mario Woods had called home. I asked her, “Did you know Mario Woods.” She said, “No, but when somebody from ‘The Point’ (Hunters Point) falls, we all come together.”
I agree with her. We need to acknowledge the pain, all of the pain. No matter who pulled the trigger or what color clothes they were wearing, the murder of a child is a mother’s nightmare.