A town hall meeting hosted by San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr Monday evening to give residents an opportunity to discuss the fatal shooting of a Guatemalan man by police officers in the city’s Mission District on Thursday night turned tense as community members repeatedly accused police of using excessive force while patrolling the neighborhood.
Dozens of Mission District residents gathered for the town hall meeting at Cesar Chavez Elementary School this evening, located just a block and a half away from the scene of the fatal officer-involved shooting on Thursday night.
According to police, the incident began around 9:45 p.m. Thursday when police responded to the area of 24th and Folsom streets after receiving a 911 call reporting a Hispanic man armed with a knife. The 911 call came in at 9:44 p.m. and the reporting party told a 911 dispatcher that a male was running with a knife, heading down Folsom Street toward 25th Street.
The witness told the dispatcher that the person was chasing after another male, police said. Police said two plainclothes officers arrived on scene at 9:46 p.m. at which point they allegedly saw the suspect with a knife. The two officers drew their firearms and ordered the suspect to drop the knife.
The officers, who police said had their department issued stars visible on their clothes, fired at the suspect. At 9:47 p.m. the reporting party told the dispatcher that consecutive shots were heard at the scene.
Suhr said the officers fired at the man a total of six times and then requested an ambulance at 9:48 p.m., however the man was pronounced dead at the scene. Police said the two officers are being placed on paid administrative leave as the incident is investigated by the San Francisco Police Department’s homicide detail, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and San Francisco Police Department Internal Affairs.
Chris Wirowek, acting medical examiner administrator at the San Francisco medical examiner’s office said today that because the deceased man’s family is located outside the United States, attempts to notify the family have so far been unsuccessful. He said until the family is notified, he could not confirm the identity of the deceased.
Community members at the town hall meeting, including the decedent’s employer, identified him as Amilcar Perez-Lopez. While police said the decedent was a 20-year-old San Francisco resident, community members said Perez-Lopez may have been 21 or 22 years old.
Community members at the town hall meeting disagreed with Suhr’s account of what happened the night Perez-Lopez was killed. While Suhr referred to the decedent as the suspect, community members referred to him as the victim.
Police allege that Perez-Lopez was attempting to rob a man of his bicycle when the officers intervened, but Perez-Lopez’ former employer described him as someone with money in the bank, who would never have been out trying to steal someone’s bicycle.
“I don’t think you have all the facts,” Perez-Lopez’ former employer said to police tonight, urging them to conduct a more thorough investigation.
Community members also asked the chief for more information about the person who claimed Perez-Lopez was trying to steal his bike. Neighbors said they saw that man handcuffed at the scene and that police were not explaining why they handcuffed an alleged victim.
While the alleged victim was uninjured during the alleged robbery attempt, community members questioned his innocence and his involvement in the incident. Suhr said both men spoke Spanish and that the police officers who arrived were not fluent in Spanish. Some community members urged Suhr to place Spanish-speaking officers in the Mission District, while others asked him why his officers were unable to disarm the man.
Many of the individuals present at the town hall meeting, including two young boys, criticized Suhr’s leadership, telling him that he and his officers need to stop terrorizing the community and covering up the facts. Many urged the chief to teach his officers how to de-escalate violent situations instead of using deadly force.
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes the Mission, attended the town hall meeting as well and called for an independent investigation into what occurred the night of the shooting.
Campos explained to Suhr:
“We have a community that has a different sense of what happened.”
Campos said Perez-Lopez appears to have been born into an indigenous family in Guatemala and that his family does not speak Spanish, but instead speak a language indigenous to Guatemala. He said he was not sure how much Spanish Perez-Lopez actually knew.
Other community members used the town hall meeting as a platform to discuss controversial issues such as whether police should be issued Tasers, whether all cops are inherently bad, whether plainclothes officers are too difficult to recognize as police officers, and whether police patrolling in the Mission are quicker to use deadly force than in wealthier neighborhoods.
At times, the auditorium where the town hall was being held burst into chants reminiscent of the rallies that ignited in the wake of the fatal officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Jorge Cal, a resident of the Mission District, who said the shooting occurred right outside his building, asked the chief why he hasn’t trained his officers to be able to disarm a person with a knife:
“You have to tell your officers they need to act like human beings,” Cal said. “You have to reeducate your officers.”