As we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday today and honor his legacy, we are confronted with many pressing issues: War, poverty, homelessness, economic inequality, racism, shootings and killings of black 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.
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 in late August 2015.
Few media reported on this hate crime.
In December, Mario Woods, a black man, was shot and killed in the Bayview District by five San Francisco Police officers. Police claimed that he was a suspect in a stabbing, and that he had a knife on him. Video footage recorded by civilians show that Woods backed against the wall, moving very slowly, before being shot repeatedly at close range.
Police Chief Greg Suhr defended the officers’ actions, claiming that Woods raised his arms 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 recorded 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 black community—and other communities as well—is outraged at the killing, viewing it as a cold-blooded, firing squad-style execution.
It’s reminiscent of the 2011 officer involved shooting of Kenneth Harding Jr. in the Bayview District. 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 terror 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 black 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 the words Dr. King spoke in Sept. 1963, during the funeral for the four little girls who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. “They have something to say to every minister of the Gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass.”
Many are calling for police reform in the wake of Woods’ death.
And many say that this isn’t enough. Many demand that Suhr be fired. 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, for Black lives matter.