Video of Mario Woods shooting reignites discussion on police violence

Larry Salomon, a lecturer for SF State's Ethnic Studies Program, speaks to his Critical Thinking in Ethnic Studies class about its upcoming final in Burk Hall Tuesday, Dec 8. (David Henry / Xpress)

The deadly shooting of Mario Woods in The Bayview district Nov. 2 prompted a possible revision of the San Francisco Police Department’s use-of-force policy, after the police chief’s claims that the officers acted in self defense, according to SF Weekly.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr presented witness video of the incident, which he claimed showed that the officers fired only after they were prompted by Woods moving toward an officer with an extended arm, the SF Examiner reported.

Christian Hernandez, an SF State student in his second year, was one of the few people to post footage of the shooting on social media, which has since been retweeted more than 56,000 times.

“In the first couple of hours, it exploded,” Hernandez said. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive response, but there were some people who had hate speeches against cops. Last night, I got a comment from someone that said, ‘What is supposed to go viral, you agitator?’”

Hernandez said he was on his way home from school, waiting for Muni, when he heard yelling and sirens. He said he then ran over to the other Muni stop to see the commotion, where he saw multiple police cars arrive and police officers surround a man – later identified as Mario Woods – and pull out their guns.

About two or three bean bag rounds were shot at Woods, Hernandez said. When Woods tried to find a way out, he either brushed against or tried to reach for something in his jacket, which prompted officers to shoot, according to Hernandez, who shot a video of the incident and posted it on the web.

“It was pretty crazy, because I thought one officer would shoot him or someone would pin him down, but what really happened was completely unexpected,” Hernandez said. “I was really confused and shocked.”

Hernandez said he forgot he shot the video until his Critical Thinking and the Ethnic Studies Experience class discussed the incident.

“We focus on critical thinking on media coverage and news bias (in the class),” said Larry Salomon, who teaches the class. “We discuss videos that go viral and question how reliable they are. We’re also a critical thinking class in ethnic studies, so we look at things like race and power in our discussions.”

Hernandez said that he mentioned that he had a video of the Bayview shooting, and Salomon asked to view it. 

Salomon said the class unanimously reacted with shock and outrage and encouraged him to get it out trending, but Hernandez was initially hesitant to do so, because he was not sure of the reaction he would get to the video.

“I wanted to make sure (Christian) knew what was going to happen and that he was prepared for possible criticism or retaliation (after releasing the video),” Salomon said. “But I think his decision to just put the video out there, without comment, is incredibly brave.
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The class brought up the topic of police brutality and #BlackLivesMatter while discussing the video, according to Hernandez, who said students were shocked by the video, commenting that “it sounded like a shooting range.” Hernandez said that in the class discussion, they understood that the police officers probably shot Woods because he was moving closer to another police officer, but thought the way they responded was incorrect.

“(The video) was really intense, because when I saw it, I put myself in the shoes of the person shooting the video, and it seemed really intense to see that in front of you,” said Owais Naeem, a hospitality tourism and management major in Salomon’s class. “It was one man against all those police officers, and there was so many ways they could have peacefully approached him.”

Hernandez acknowledges that people in San Francisco are very angry and are putting pressure on the police to change their system, but he said he knows that there are good police officers and bad ones, and no one knows who they will have to deal with.

“I just think that not all cops are how people think, but I think that the way they killed him was the correct and moral way,” Hernandez said.

Salomon said that while he couldn’t necessarily say that police violence and police bias is increasing, he does believe that greater access to images and videos of these incidents has prompted greater vigilance and awareness in the community.

“I see more pressure being put on police, on the government, on the DA, on the mayor – the community is not just outraged, but armed with more evidence,” Salomon said. “This is going to embolden communities.
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