Mother of Mario Woods administers oath to San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju at packed community inauguration

Gwen Woods, mother of Mario Woods, murdered by SFPD firing-squad-style, administers Public Defender Mano Raju’s Community Oath of Office during a very moving Black History Month celebration that packed the Brava Theater on Feb. 27. – Photo: Kevin Epps

by Valerie Ibarra

San Francisco – On Feb. 27, 2020, in front of a crowd of over 300 people at Brava Theater, San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju took his oath of office and pledged his service to the community as part of the annual Black History Month Celebration of the Public Defender’s Office.

His oath was administrated by Gwen Woods, mother of Mario Woods, who was shot and killed by San Francisco police in 2015.

Before administering the oath, Woods, surrounded by a group of mothers who have lost their children to police violence, urged Raju to “stay hopeful” and to remember that the people he and all public defenders serve have a story, and to “hear it.”

Woods, who is from Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco, said that she has spent her whole life combatting stereotypes about her community. “Hope runs out because the narrative becomes so redundant. When you grow up in a community where Black boys tell you, ‘I’m not going to live to see 25,’ that’s a hopeless society,” said Woods. She implored Raju to “let them know they count, they matter.”

Public Defender Raju’s social justice oath emphasized his commitment to serve San Francisco’s most vulnerable communities with an understanding of our shared humanity and pledged to “see all the beauty, power and potential of each person I defend.”

Raju stated in his speech: “This shared humanity is why we aggressively litigate our cases and humanize our clients to judges and juries, and why long after the cases are done, we are also fighting to connect our clients with the treatment, employment and housing they need to stay out of the system and be with their loved ones and communities.”

He added, “Serving clients with the utmost integrity, to me, means rejecting the stereotypes and narratives about who our clients and their communities are, and fighting for their right to be treated with dignity.”

The Black History Month event, hosted by the department’s Racial Justice Committee, also featured speeches by Supervisor Shamann Walton, Youth Commissioner Rome Jones, the rapper Prezi and numerous public defenders.

Prezi, a rapper from Bayview Hunters Point, where being arrested, justified or not, has for too long been a rite of passage, praised Public Defender Mano Raju for his extraordinary representation and his willingness to fight for fairness and justice even for young Black men, who are usually presumed guilty in court. Staying out of prison has allowed Prezi to become such a successful rapper that his music video has 36 million views. – Photo: Kevin Epps

Supervisor Walton said, “Having a public defender for the people is imperative. By having a community inauguration, it definitely sheds light on the type of person he is. I am proud and excited that Mano is carrying on the legacy of fighting for justice at the Public Defender’s Office.” Walton noted that Raju is already working with the Board of Supervisors on issues of police accountability.

Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis, chair of the Racial Justice Committee, said that public defenders are “on the frontier of a civil rights battle” and are uniquely positioned to effectuate change in a system that overwhelmingly incarcerates people of color and disproportionately removes African American children from the home or places them on electronic monitoring. Solis noted, “We call out racism when we see it.”

Youth Commissioner Jones, who serves on the working group helping to rewrite the San Francisco police department’s general orders about bias in policing, noted that Black youth are underrepresented in the conversations where decisions are made. He urged his fellow youth to “make them put us in positions to really respect us and hear us out.”

After the event, which reflected the determination of everyone in the Public Defender’s Office to stay on the path Jeff Adachi blazed of building strength and solidarity in Black neighborhoods to replace the hopelessness that plagues them, filmmaker Kevin Epps embraced Gwen Woods, mother of SFPD victim Mario Woods, who administered Public Defender Mano Raju’s Community Oath. In an unusual stroke of solidarity, Chesa Boudin attended the event, his years with the Public Defender’s Office having prepared him for his new role as the nation’s most progressive district attorney.

Mano Raju’s Public Defender Oath

I will be compassionate, relentless and courageous in the fight for justice.

I will remain committed to racial justice.

I will grow excellence among defenders.

I will honor the brilliance of the intergenerational resilience of our clients and their communities.

I will remember that my representation of individuals will impact their entire family and community, and therefore strive to stay engaged with that family and community.

I will work toward structural changes that contribute to ending the mass incarceration system that has devastated our society for far too long.

I will commit to fighting against unjust and racist immigration laws, to defend all people regardless of their birthplace or immigration status, and to fight mass deportation as vigorously as I fight mass incarceration.

I will keep burning the flame of hopefulness because we know that hopelessness is the enemy of justice.

I will be willing to see all the beauty, power and potential of each person I defend.

To watch the program on Facebook live, visit the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office page, here.

Valerie Ibarra, public information officer for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, can be reached at Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org.