Protests Over Police Shooting Could Disrupt Super Bowl Opening

Activists aren't happy San Francisco is spending so much energy on the big game instead of addressing injustice in the city.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A fatal shooting by San Francisco police is threatening to grab the national spotlight during Super Bowl festivities.

Protesters upset about the killing of Mario Woods, 26, by five officers on Dec. 2 plan to disrupt the opening of an interactive park for football fans in downtown San Francisco on Saturday. Mayor Ed Lee this week called for a federal investigation of the killing, but that did nothing to temper critics who accused Lee of bending over backward to accommodate the NFL's presence while ignoring the friction between police and minority communities. 

"He has spent all of his energy pushing out the homeless, disabling bus lines and creating traffic jams so that his precious Super Bowl City can inconvenience the city of San Francisco for two weeks," the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition wrote on Facebook. "This is energy he could have spent apologizing to Mario Woods' family, seeking justice and acting like he actually cares about the black and brown community in San Francisco. We have promised him no peace until we get justice. We will bring it to his precious Super Bowl City."

Woods was shot 21 times. Police officials have said the officers opened fire when he moved toward them with a knife. But videos of the shooting that witnesses recorded generated outrage from critics who said Woods, allegedly a suspect from an earlier stabbing, did not threaten the police. 

(Warning: This video contain graphic images.)


A video posted by HotRod (@daniggahot) on

A successful protest could be embarrassing to the city as it gears up to host performances and other events ahead of the Feb. 7 title game in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Though the protest is intended to heap blame on the police, a department spokesman promised the protest could go ahead as planned. 

"We always facilitate the 1st Amendment right to demonstrate in SF," said Officer Albie Esparza said by email, "and we are good at both managing large scale events and demonstrations."

It's been a contentious period in San Francisco since Woods' death. Lee was heckled at his inauguration this month by protesters calling for the ouster of police chief Greg Suhr. Similar cries were heard in December at a raucous police commission hearing. 

Suhr has been criticized for saying the officers' actions were justified soon after the shooting, though no official investigation had been conducted yet. 

The pressure activists are placing on political figures like Lee is becoming apparent. Lee shared a letter he'd written to Attorney General Loretta Lynch last Friday asking the feds to review the shooting, as Woods' family demanded earlier this month.

The Department of Justice, however, is noncommittal about taking up the case unless evidence emerges that police broke civil rights laws.

“We are aware of the incident and in contact with local authorities. If in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal civil rights violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate," a department spokesperson said by email. 

The city's Board of Supervisors made a conciliatory gesture to Woods' family and their supporters on Wednesday by declaring July 22, Woods' birthday, a day of remembrance for the slain man. The move clearly displeased police union officials, who ridiculed the supervisors before they voted for honoring Woods while neglecting fallen police. 

"Those who have died a violent death, in the line of duty, within the SFPD and the SFFD serving this City have never received such acknowledgment and it is a travesty that certain public officials would glorify anyone who preys on the most vulnerable in our community," San Francisco Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran said on Facebook.

The supervisors are also developing recommendations to change the rules for when the police may use force.

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