San Francisco

‘We're Not Anti-Police, We're Anti-Haters': Mario Woods Honored at Emotional Vigil on Would-Be 27th Birthday

Sadness and renewed calls for justice marked Mario Woods Day in San Francisco Friday. 

The Justice For Mario Woods Coalition is seeking justice for the man who was fatally shot by police last year in the city's Bayview neighborhood. Members held a vigil in his honor on what would have been his 27th birthday.

Earlier this year, San Francisco supervisors unanimously passed a resolution to mark Friday as Mario Woods Day — a move that drew some criticism. 

"On this day, on Mario Woods Day, we are not only talking about Mario Woods, but we’re talking about all the victims and the need for real police reform," supervisor David Campos said.

Community members met at 5 p.m. at Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church at 6190 Third St., according to organizers. They sang, prayed and ate pizza — the young man's favorite food — at the site where Mario Woods was killed. 

Woods' mother, Gwendolyn Woods, was among those at Third Street and Le Conte Avenue, where balloons and a birthday banner were spotted.

"Next time you take our lives, 40 bullets against a wall, 22 to a body — my baby didn’t deserve that," she said. 

Gwendolyn Woods has been an advocate for police reform since her son died. 

"Mario was the best of me," she said. "One thing I say is they never know what they did, they never know what they took from me. They’ll never know. I miss that kid."

An emotional Gwendolyn Woods said she believes "everybody needs a cake for their birthday."

If her son had been alive, she said, they would likely have visited The Shops at Tanforan, bought a "pair of tennis shoes" and CDs, eaten lunch at BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse and enjoyed the waterfront.

"He was a beautiful spirit," Gwendolyn Woods said. "Contrary to what they want you to believe, Mario was a beautiful spirit."

The roughly 80 people who came together Friday displayed a range of emotions, including sadness, joy and frustration. The common thread, however, was a deep need for justice.

"Being a police officer in these streets isn’t an easy job, so don’t get us wrong — we’re not anti-police, we’re anti-haters," said Frank Williams of the Mario Woods Coalition.

As members of the community remembered Mario Woods Friday, police remembered their own.

"It was prompted by the murder of Sgt. Scott Lunger one year ago today, but it was also prompted by the assassination of five Dallas police officers and the assassination of three Baton Rouge police officers," said Martin Halloran, with the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Lunger worked for the Hayward Police Department and was fatally shot during a traffic stop. 

Woods was killed on Dec. 2 at after he was shot by five officers during a confrontation with police. Officers encountered Woods, who allegedly had bloody clothes and was holding a knife, after receiving a report that a man armed with a knife had stabbed someone just moments before nearby.

Cellphone video of the incident was taken bystanders was posted online and has generated public outrage.

An autopsy later revealed Woods had been shot 21 times by police, many of the bullet wounds in his back. The autopsy also found Woods had methamphetamine, marijuana, anti-depressants, cough syrup, nicotine and caffeine in his system.

A civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the family of Woods, along with attorney John Burris, against the city in federal court in December. According to the suit, officers used extreme force on Woods and should have used a different protocol because Woods allegedly suffered from mental illness.

In response to the lawsuit, the San Francisco City Attorney's Office said Woods had told officers they would have to shoot him before he would drop the knife. Additionally, the attorney's office said officers first fired beanbags, rubber bullets and pepper spray at Woods, before resorting to guns.

In the wake of the shooting, as well as other highly publicized fatal officer-involved shootings in San Francisco, the city's Police Commission recently approved a new use-of-force policy.

The revision, which is the department's first such revision since the mid 1990s, focuses on using language encouraging de-escalation and using the minimal amount of necessary force, among other changes, according to police commission officials.

On Friday, the San Francisco Police Officers Association and other police unions took out a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle to honor law enforcement officials. According to the ad’s last line, "It is they who deserving of special civic remembrance."

“We’re here simply to honor our public safety officers who put their lives on the line every day,” Halloran said.

Meanwhile, Daniel Muhammad, with the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, took a different stance.

"All lives matter," he said. "This is not our lives vs. law enforcement lives, first responders lives — and if anyone is trying to reduce this conversation in that area, it’s unfortunate."

To Muhammad, Mario Woods Day represented an important "starting point."

"It’s a day of healing," he said. "It’s a day of reflection. It’s a day for us to renew our vows that we’re going to seek and fight for justice."

Remembrance events continue Saturday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

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