by Kevin Epps, Father, Filmmaker, Activist
In 2016, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to name July 22nd “Mario Woods Remembrance Day” in the City and County of San Francisco in perpetuity. This year, for Mario Woods Remembrance Day, on Wednesday, July 22, 4:30-7:00 p.m., we will gather at Third Street and Fitzgerald Avenue, San Francisco.
This year will be noticeably different, the necessary changes prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and the national calls at protests and demonstrations that are bringing attention to senseless killings of Black and Brown people by law enforcement.
The gathering will take place in front of Woods’ mural that was painted in honor of his memory on the sacred location where he was shot and killed execution style by five SF police officers in December 2015. This will also be a time for healing and an homage to mothers and families who have been affected by police brutality.
Woods’ mother, Gwen Woods, will be hosting “Mario Woods Remembrance Day.” Family, friends, supporters, community, leaders and activists will celebrate his life and others. This annual gathering of remembrance is to make sure his life and other lives are not forgotten against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement.
As we prepare for “Mario Woods Remembrance Day,” I had the opportunity to interview iconic Elaine Brown, former leader of the Black Panther Party – its minister of information and chairwoman.
Epps: Greetings, Ms. Elaine Brown. Thank you kindly for allowing me this privilege to interview you about Mario Woods and the context of the George Floyd murder – issues we’re dealing with today.
Brown: The unrelenting murders of Black people by police in the U.S. will continue unless the people deliver a consequence that matters. That is, to look to the police, the district attorneys or elected officials to end police violence is the height of absurdity, because they are the perpetrators and bosses of the perpetrators of this state violence.
We can never compare cases of Black misery, though. From George Floyd back to Mario Woods and all those in between and before and, tragically, after, we recognize that the police serve the interests of the rich and white and powerful. Even if we “legally” prosecute some pigs, “defund” the police under some scheme, or orchestrate some type of police reform, there will be no let-up until we organize to fight back and seize power.
Epps: What can young activists do?
Brown: To paraphrase Gil Scott-Heron’s magnificent poem that the revolution will not be televised, let me say that the revolutionary change we must seek will require more than a Twitter or Facebook page, a hashtag, tearing down monuments, “ally-ship,” rallies and protests.
The anti-Vietnam War movement was massive and long-standing, hundreds of thousands in the streets every day for years, draft-dodging and picketing. When the war ended – with the victory of the Vietcong, not from U.S. street rallies – the Yippies became Yuppies, settling into Wall Street, falling back into whiteness. And, rising from Bloody Sunday, Negroes got elected to public offices and found their place in the system, happy to collect a check, ready to serve Massah and his agenda.
The key is to organize the oppressed, including Blacks and Latinx and Natives and poor whites and working people and all other poor and oppressed people, around an agenda of liberation and revolution. Quoting Mao, we who were in the Black Panther Party always knew that “the people and the people alone are the makers of the revolution.” Without a revolutionary ideology and an organized effort, when the love of white people for Black lives dies out by December; everybody will go back to our corners in the scheme of things.
Epps: What are your thoughts about the state execution of Mario Woods?
Brown: First, as a mother, as a Black person, as a revolutionary, I cannot stop weeping. Mario’s murder was hard, for one, because we saw this mother’s son mercilessly executed by a firing squad of San Francisco pigs, headed by a Black one.
It was particularly hard knowing that this had nothing to do with anything Mario did but was an exercise of unchecked, barbaric power. These five policemen – Charles August, Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips – knew they could murder a Black man with impunity. Nobody, nobody that mattered, was going to deliver a consequence to them.
Since the state supports the execution of Mario, the people must organize to bring down the state, to bring about revolutionary change and create an egalitarian society.
They knew they were part of and supported and underwritten by the state, including the police association, the D.A., the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the governor, the state representatives, the Congressional and Senate representatives, as evidenced, if nothing else, by their nearly one billion dollar annual budget. They knew that nobody, nobody who mattered, would think Mario Woods mattered.
Despite all the protests in the street, the worldwide attention, the Colin Kaepernicks, the powers that be – in this case, the D.A., George Gascón, now seeking to be D.A. in Los Angeles – dismissed the matter stating without fear of reprisal from the people that there was insufficient evidence or cause to prosecute the cops who killed Mario. And now there is silence all around and tears.
And this, even though we have the power, the power to make a demand and deliver a consequence if it’s not met. But we’re gripped by fear, fear of the police, the state, fear that has driven so-called activists to operate with hashtags, dress up like Black Panthers and organize social media rallies to bring about “change” or “justice” or whatever vague expression of the day there might be.
Since the state supports the execution of Mario, the people must organize to bring down the state, to bring about revolutionary change and create an egalitarian society where barbarism, like the acts of the San Francisco police in the murder of Mario Woods, will be eliminated for all time.
Elaine Brown will be speaking at the Mario Woods Remembrance Day gathering, along with other community leaders, activists, family, friends and supporters, as we support healing and demand justice.
Hunters Point’s favorite son, filmmaker Kevin Epps, is best known for the game-changing “Straight Outta Hunters Point” and for “Black Rock,” “Rap Dreams,” “Fam Bam” and more. He has collaborated on projects with Google, Yahoo, Discovery Channel, Current TV and a host of other media partners. He was awarded an artist fellowship by the world renowned de Young Museum. His passion for advocacy for his community is legendary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.