On Thursday, San Francisco police shot and killed Luis Gongora, a 45-year-old homeless Mexican man. The authorities claim that Gongora was armed with a knife and charged at them, but multiple eyewitness accounts contradict the official police narrative.
What are the police saying?
The SFPD says the altercation began after they received a phone call from the city’s homeless outreach team alerting them of a man with a big knife walking along a homeless encampment on Shotwell Street, located in the Mission District, a historically Latino neighborhood that has been transformed by gentrification.
According to four witness statements released by the police, Gongora was sitting down, but got up abruptly and charged at the police with the weapon in hand. SFPD first fired beanbag rounds to subdue him, but were ineffective in stopping Gongora. As a result — and because they claimed that they feared for their lives — SFPD opened fire.
The San Francisco Chronicle obtained surveillance video of the incident, but the actual shooting took place outside of the camera frame, so it’s difficult to say what actually happened.
“They need to realize that some people don’t speak English.”
Not everyone is buying what the police are saying. John Visor, who lived in the homeless encampment with Gongora and claims to have been his friend, said that Gongora wasn’t a threat.
“He didn’t charge at the officers,” Visor told The Guardian. “He was going in circles because he didn’t understand what they said. He had a knife on him, but he didn’t have it out. He had it in his hip, and when he hit the ground, that’s when it fell out.”
Stephanie Grant, another witness who also lived in the camp, suggested that Gongora’s inability to speak English contributed to his death.
“They need to realize that some people don’t speak English,” Grant told the Guardian. “They didn’t wait for anything. It all happened so fast.”
The Latino Mario Woods?
— Justice or Else Mvmt (@JusticeOrElse) April 11, 2016
Luis Gongora’s death is drawing comparisons to Mario Woods, the 26-year-old black man who was shot and killed by SFPD last December. Police defended the Woods death, citing that because he had just stabbed someone he prone to do harm to somebody else. But video evidence of Mario Woods’s final moments — filmed by a middle schooler — has the feel of an execution by firing squad. (You can watch the very graphic video here.) As a result, beleaguered San Francisco mayor Ed Lee asked the Justice Department to look into the shooting.
There’s also Alex Nieto, the 28-year-old Mexican-American who was killed while casually eating a burrito in Bernal Hill Park, located in yet another neighborhood that’s transitioning from working-class Latinos to tech bro enclave.
As was the case after the deaths of Woods and Nieto, activists took to the streets to protest the police shooting. On Sunday, a group of 40 or so protestors shut down traffic near where Gongora was shot. Meanwhile, Mayor Lee announced over the weekend that the city was going to take down homeless encampments like the one found on Shotwell Street because of safety concerns.
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