Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

Family wants federal probe in SF police killing

During a SF police commission meeting, Jeff Stewart said his dead cousin, Mario Woods, ‘deserves to be breathing’

The cousin of a man shot to death by San Francisco police says the family wants the five officers who fired their guns to be charged in the case and the police chief to resign.

Jeff Stewart said during an at times heated Police Commission meeting Wednesday night that the family of Mario Woods is also demanding that federal authorities investigate the case and that Police Chief Greg Suhr personally apologize to Woods' mother for the Dec. 2 shooting.

Stewarts says his cousin “deserves to be breathing.”

Suhr said he has spoken to Woods' mother and apologized for her son's death.

“Why did they shoot?” asked Shawn Richard, head of the nonprofit Brother Against Guns. “There were a whole a range of things they could have done to defuse the situation before shooting.”

The San Francisco police shooting is the latest in a wave of police killings — most often of young men who are minorities by white officers — that entered widespread awareness with the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 9, 2014. Brown was unarmed at the time, and his death triggered a wave of protests in Ferguson that spread throughout the country.

Most recently, the Justice Department has opened a wide-ranging investigation into the patterns and practices of the Chicago Police Department focusing on concerns over use of deadly force and racial bias. The announcement came after the city released an explosive video of a white Chicago police officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times and killing him in October. Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the department’s problems on Wednesday.

San Francisco's Suhr had planned to ask city officials for Tasers, a popular brand of stun guns, during a police commission meeting Wednesday night.

The request comes in the wake of last Wednesday's fatal shooting of Woods which was captured on two video clips, both circulated widely online. In one, Woods appears to approach an officer with gun drawn who is walking toward him when at least 15 gunshots are fired amid bystanders' screams.

Suhr has said the shooting could have been avoided if the responding officers were equipped with stun guns, weapons that are not without controversy. Previous San Francisco police commissions rejected use of the Taser, saying they were concerned the weapon could kill and maim suspects, especially those with heart conditions. They also worried about cases where officers said they confused their handgun with their Taser and ended up fatally shooting a suspect. 

But outcry over Woods' death often drowned out the Taser debate at the commission meeting. 

Before the meeting, a crowd chanted and held signs that read “Jail All Racist Killer Cops” and “Fire Chief Shur!” outside City Hall. During the meeting, speakers were at times interrupted by a crowd outside the room chanting “Fire Chief Suhr! Fire Chief Suhr!”

The videos of Wood's death have fueled anger against police in the predominantly black neighborhood where he was shot. The races or ethnicities of the five officers who shot Woods were not released by the department and the video does not show all their faces.

Suhr said the five officers who fired their guns have been put on leave with pay pending the outcome of the department's investigation. The San Francisco district attorney is also investigating. Suhr said the identities of the officers will be released by “the end of the week.”

Some activists and community leaders who spoke during the meeting echoed Stewart's call for Suhr to resign. Others asked him to reach out to the community.

Local NAACP President Rev. Amos Brown called Suhr's plan to equip officers with Tasers and other gear such as plastic shields "too simplistic." Brown said at an NAACP-organized meeting this week that the department has failed to implement diversity recruiting, sensitivity training and other suggestions made by the group.

“You don't need a shield, you need sense,” Brown said. “Not just Tasers, you need trust. And this community does not trust the police.”

Brown said the police chief should undertake a more vigorous effort to recruit African American and Latino officers.

“Let us act like San Francisco knows how to do it,” Brown said. “We claim to be a liberal city, let us not live a lie.”

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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