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Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK Day in SF: Mayor Ed Lee Booed off Stage; Feds Called to Investigate "Pattern" of Police Bias

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2016 at 2:59 PM

click to enlarge John L. Burris, far right, speaks to Gwendolyn Woods, Mario Woods's mother, before the start of a press conference on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. - MIKE KOOZMIN/SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner
  • John L. Burris, far right, speaks to Gwendolyn Woods, Mario Woods's mother, before the start of a press conference on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the one holiday America had to be shamed into celebrating. Not observed in all 50 states until 2000 — 27 years after Reagan made the birthday of the American civil rights movement's less-controversial leader a federal holiday — MLK Day today still only relieves only about a third of American workers from their duties. 

While some of you have the day off and are up at Tahoe knee-deep in fresh (white) powder or making your way through a Netflix binge (though for the record, the first few working people we saw this morning were all black) it was a busy day in San Francisco — and more Malcolm than Martin.

Mayor Ed Lee's speech at the Labor Council's MLK Day Breakfast Interfaith Council's "commemoration" of King at Yerba Buena Gardens was interrupted by protesters with the Mario Woods coalition — the mayor was shouted off the stage and exited, while the protesters, which included a Black Panther, were given the spotlight.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, Woods attorney John L. Burris announced that he's asked the federal Justice Department to investigate what he has identified as a "pattern and practice" of racially-biased policing.

Both Mayor Ed Lee and former Mayor Willie Brown were expected to attend a Labor Council breakfast meant to honor Glide Memorial Church's Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani (they were on the program, at least).

Instead, neither showed — but Lee was on hand at the Interfaith Council's later event, when protesters — including many of the same crew that shouted down Lee during his inauguration a few weeks ago — took over.

"Would Martin Luther King be proud of you right now? No!" shouted Mission District resident and teacher Ilyich Sato, also known as underground rapper Equipto (yes, the same Equipto who told Ed Lee he was a "disgrace to Asians" on the mayor's way out of a Van Ness Avenue restaurant in October).

"We'll be at your house — we'll be everywhere!" another protester warned the mayor.

"Thank you," the mayor said.

Lee attempted to talk over the protesters for a bit before exiting the stage. Williams, according to the San Francisco Examiner, then invited the protesters up on stage to speak their peace. Later, the protesters assembled outside to call, as they have done consistently for over a month, for Lee to fire police Chief Greg Suhr.

A little later, at a Baptist church in Silver Terrace, a few miles closer to where Woods, 26, was fatally shot 20 times by 5 police officers, his legal team and mother held a press conference to announce that they've asked the federal Justice Department to do what it's done in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities: send in investigators to look at a "pattern and practice" of racially-biased policing, as attorney John L. Burris put it.
Burris, the prominent civil rights attorney who uncovered a pattern of crooked cops in Oakland in what's now known as the "Riders" case, outlined what he feels is a similar chronology in San Francisco. Crooked cops found guilty of corruption by the federal government, some of those same cops trading racist text messages with other officers, and a drug task force that somehow managed to only arrest black people. All that on top of the other "usual" disproportionate arrest and incarceration statistics.

Burris and his attorneys also repeated demands for Suhr to allow an outside agency to conduct an investigation into Woods's shooting.

Suhr has taken much heat for saying, publicly, that his officers appeared to be following department protocol, according to their recap of the encounter (for his part, the chief insists that he did not cast judgment, and merely repeated what his officers told him to the media, which then ran with its very own version of events). 

But whether it's the federal DOJ or a cadre of ex-cops-turned-experts, Burris does not much care who investigates Woods's death, "as long as it's not the chief," he said. "You cannot give this [investigation] to someone with a vested interest" in its outcome, while noting that of the 37 fatal police shootings since 2000, all were found to have been justified. 

The lawsuit against the city and SFPD over Woods's shooting is just beginning. Woods's mother, Gwendolyn, briefly addressed the cameras before breaking down into sobs.

"I just hope he didn't suffer," she said, a woman still clearly in anguish.

Giving the whole affair some historical context was Rev. Amos Brown, the longtime head of the local chapter of the NAACP, who knew King personally. Looking back on the last 60 years, Brown said, the same spirit that saw Emmett Till be murdered and led to the murder of King "is alive, thriving, kicking, and doing well."

Happy MLK Day, everyone.
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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