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Death Of Mario Woods Part Of Long History Of Racial Tension In San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The death of Mario Woods five years ago brought police reforms to San Francisco that were five decades in the making.

As family members and activists gathered in San Francisco's Bayview district Wednesday to memorialize Woods' life on his birthday, some called his death at the hands of police San Francisco's "George Floyd" moment.

"Mario Woods was definitely one of our George Floyds … along with other people who have been killed by law enforcement here in San Francisco," said San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton.

In December of 2015, police said Woods had just stabbed a woman and was holding the bloody knife. Police surrounded Woods and shot more than 20 times.

Mario Woods
Mario Woods (Family photo)

The cellphone video of the police shooting sparked huge protests, a hunger strike and eventually led to the firing of the police chief, Greg Suhr.

No charges were filed against the officers who shot Woods.

But the Mario Woods situation was not the first time tensions between police and the African-American community resulted in major protests.

Fifty-four years ago, in September of 1966, a police officer shot a teenager named Matthew "Peanut" Johnson in the back in Hunter's Point.

"The police officer got out. He didn't say hold, stop or nothing. He just shot him. I've seen it with my own eyes," said Oscar James, a longtime resident of Hunter's Point who helped organize the ensuing protests.

Johnson died immediately and his shooting sparked nearly a week of unrest. Windows were broken out. There were clashes between police and community members.

"A lot of bullet holes, they rioted, they looted and they burned," said Marian Jones, who is known as the godmother of Hunter's Point.

At one point, police opened fire into a community center with children inside.

"So it was about five people that really got hit with bullets on the outside," said James. "We don't know many people got hurt inside the opera house, which was a child care center in there at that time."

The governor at the time, Pat Brown, called out the National Guard.

KPIX 5 archival video shows a young attorney named Willie Brown getting interrupted by police and told to move along as the tensions grew.

Willie Brown - 1966
Willie Brown, long before his time as mayor of San Francisco, being interrupted by a San Francisco Police officer during unrest following the shooting death of Matthew "Peanut" Johnson in 1966. (CBS)

The future mayor of San Francisco was advocating on behalf of the people in this traditional African-American neighborhood.

The Hunter's Point unrest eventually led to a lot more attention to this underserved corner of San Francisco in the form of jobs and programs for young people.

"[It helped] a little … a little, not much," said Jones, who added that the community still has "a long way to go."

In the aftermath of Mario Woods, a large percentage of police officers are now being trained in de-escalation. The number of officer-involved shootings has dropped dramatically.

Walton, whose district covers the Bayview, said more changes are on the way, including an effort to re-direct funds from the police department to social programs.

"We have a lot of allies out here," Walton said. "A lot of folks who support our community. But we also need people to stand with us when we push policies that say 'enough is enough.'"

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