Two months after five officers surrounded and gunned down Mario Woods, Beyonce’s dancers elevated his shooting to a global stage. Holding a sign that read “Justice 4 Mario Woods” after an explosive Super Bowl routine, they forced 112 million viewers to learn his name.
But the people who helped keep the attention on the 26-year-old after horrific videos of the shooting went viral aren’t finished demanding justice. The day after the Super Bowl, they held a press conference to call attention to African-American and Latino men who were killed by officers working for the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) in the past few years.
On Monday, members of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition resumed their own protests at City Hall, demanding an independent investigation of Woods’ case and the resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr. But in addition to citing Woods’ name, the demonstrators called for a thorough look at three fatal police shootings that have received far less attention: those of Kenneth Harding, Alex Nieto, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez.
So who are these other men, and why are activists demanding justice for them?
Nieto, a 28-year-old member of San Francisco’s Bernal Heights community, was on his way to a nightclub security job when officers fired 59 shots at him.
Prior to the shooting, Nieto was eating in Bernal Heights Park. At some point, a dog walker called 911 and reported Nieto for brandishing a gun. The SFPD later said that two officers sent to the park started shooting at Nieto because he refused to show his hands and pointed what they thought was a gun in their direction. Two more officers opened fire on Nieto when they arrived at the scene, because they mistakenly believed Nieto was shooting at their colleagues.
An eyewitness came forward last year to refute the police claims, saying Nieto neither flashed his taser nor pointed it at the officers. The attorney working on Nieto’s case has also slammed police for falsifying timestamps to show that the security guard fired the taser. Nieto’s family filed a civil lawsuit against the city for using excessive force. The trial is set to take place in March, more than a year after the district attorney declined to charge the four officers.
Before he was killed in the Mission district last year, Perez-Lopez was trying to survive as an undocumented immigrant with very little means. A 20-year-old native of Guatemala, he lived in a boiler room and worked construction jobs in order to send money home to his family. But on February 26, he was shot in the back of the head and in his back by two officers in plain clothes.
The SFPD said the officers fired their guns because Perez-Lopez lunged at them with a knife. They were originally responding to a call about a stolen bike.
Eyewitnesses, including several immigrants who were scared to come forward with their accounts, have told a very different story. According to one woman who watched the confrontation from her porch, officers arrived at the scene and pointed their weapons moments later. Two of Perez-Lopez’ roommates said that their friend was initially unaware that the men were police officers, but eventually dropped his knife. They also said police gunned down the 20-year-old while he was running away.
A medical examiner eventually corroborated the witness claims, by confirming that Perez-Lopez was shot once in the head, four times in the back, and once in the arm.
The district attorney’s office and the SFPD’s homicide unit have launched an investigation. The Perez-Lopez family filed a federal complaint against the two officers for using excessive force, as well as the SFPD for inadequately training and reprimanding them.
Kenneth Harding Jr.
In 2011, Harding was 19 years old when he opted to ride a public train without paying the $2 transit fee. When he failed to show proof of payment, he was shot and left wriggling on the ground without medical attention — for nearly 30 minutes.
Police revised their accounts of what happened several times. The first police account indicated that they confronted Harding for evading the riding fee, but he tried to flee. Harding allegedly shot at them as he ran. But days after the shooting occurred, the SFPD switched up its story of what happened. They subsequently argued that Harding actually shot and killed himself while he was running.
Witnesses said Harding wasn’t carrying a gun at all.
Aside from the different accounts, it is clear that medical attention wasn’t administered when the teenager lay dying on the ground. Video recorded by a witness shows him “writhing on the ground with blood gushing out of his neck” — surrounded by officers who are more concerned about crowd control than offering assistance.
Neither officer was charged, but in 2012, Harding’s mother sued Chief Suhr, the shooting officers, and the city for using excessive force and failing to provide medical assistance. She settled her federal wrongful death lawsuit in 2015.
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In January, thanks in large part to the continued organizing around police violence, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in favor of conducting independent investigations of Woods, Nieto, and Perez’ shootings. Days later, Loretta Lynch announced the Department of Justice’s plan to investigate SFPD’s “current operational policies, training practices, and accountability systems.”