By Anh Le
As we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday and honor his legacy, we are confronted with many pressing issues: war, poverty, homelessness, economic inequality, racism, shootings and killings of African American men by police.
In San Francisco, we pride ourselves on being “culturally diverse.” We speak of our city as if we were “enlightened,” and even immune from racism. We see racism as only happening “somewhere else,” not in our own backyard.
Yet last August, St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church, an African American church in San Francisco’s Bayview District, was vandalized and painted with racist graffiti in its sanctuary.
Few in the media reported on this hate crime.
In December, Mario Woods, an African American man, was shot and killed in the Bayview District by five San Francisco Police officers. Police claimed that he was a stabbing suspect, and had a knife on him. Videotape of him shows him backed against the wall, moving very slowly, and shot repeatedly at close range.
Police Chief Greg Suhr defended the officers’ shooting of Woods, claiming that he raised his arm and moved toward the officers. Mayor Ed Lee gave a timid public statement regarding the shooting.
KQED, an NPR radio station in San Francisco, conducted an independent analysis of the videotape of the shooting. It concluded that Woods’ arm moved only after he was shot and that he did not move toward the police officers prior to being shot.
The African American community is outraged at the killing of Woods. People see it as a cold-blooded execution, the shooting of an African American man by a “firing squad.”
It reminds people of police officers’ shooting of Kenneth Harding, Jr., in the Bayview District in 2011. Harding was chased and shot at by police after he got off a MUNI train platform for allegedly evading fare payment.
Although police claimed that the bullet that killed him came from his own pistol, he was left lying on the ground, writhing in pain and raising his head, police standing next to him without rendering emergency medical aid, with community members nearby screaming in horror and anguish.
When the vandalism at St. Paul Tabernacle occurred, it was swept under the rug. Except for a small group of San Franciscans who helped the church, there were no public condemnations from any elected officials.
Nor were there any condemnations from African American ministers and churches, the NAACP, clergypersons of various faiths. There were no protest marches organized by any church or house of worship.
This silence reminds us of Dr. King’s words, in his eulogy at the funerals of three of the four girls killed in the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, ALA, in September 1963, “They have something to say to every minister of the Gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass.”
The killing of Woods has prompted a call for reforms in the San Francisco Police Department.
Many say that this is not enough.
Many demand the firing of Police Chief Suhr. People in the African American community say that they are angry that African Americans continue to be killed at the hands of police, and demand that this culture of shooting and killing African Americans must stop.
Let us demand that the killing of Mario Woods be fully investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney General.
As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, let us remember his call:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Let us carry on Dr. King’s dream in our lives. Let us renew our belief in the sanctity of human life.
As with every human life, “Black Lives Matter.”
Anh Le is a writer who lives in San Francisco.