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Editorial: Mario Woods and the Warriors Are Two Interconnecting Narratives

Editor-in-chief Jon Steinberg on the two stories we can't stop thinking about.

Steph Curry (left) of the Warriors and Mario Woods (right).


Mario Woods and the Warriors. The Warriors and Mario Woods.

With the close of 2015 comes two utterly un-alike stories. Each started locally and reverberated globally, but their effects on the city’s central nervous system have been dramatically different. The Warriors’ unbeaten streak (23 games and counting as I write this) represents everything worth celebrating in life. It’s been a revelation of the sublime: a demonstration of skill, strength, determination, cooperation, joy, and, yeah, a little bit of luck, all wrapped up in one transcendent player and one indefatigable team. It’s not just a single unforgettable moment like “the Shot” or “the Catch,” but rather, weeks and weeks of them—history being made, over and over again, right before our eyes. 

Mario Woods represents the excruciating opposite of all that. On December 2, the 26-year-old, suspected of having stabbed someone in the shoulder with a kitchen knife, was cornered in the Bayview by 10 or so San Francisco police officers. Believing that this small man armed with a steak knife presented a mortal danger to them, five of the cops shot Woods to death. The barrage of bullets was captured from multiple camera angles by numerous passersby and immediately posted on social media, where it set off a predictable firestorm. Chief of Police Greg Suhr defended the killing as reasonable force; Woods’s mother wept to a TV interviewer that her child was no monster; the mayor confided that his first thought upon seeing the videos was “Drop the damn knife”; and, once again, the Bayview cried for and raged against a young man’s death at the hands of the police. The whole event was sickening.

Admittedly, it feels weird to conflate these two narratives, one about world-famous men paid millions of dollars to throw bouncy orange balls into nets, the other about a poor, powerless, and likely unstable man—an accused criminal and a reputed gang member, yes, but also a son and a human being—slain by officers of the state. One reality has nothing to do with the other. And yet, the stories sit side by side in our minds, on the airwaves, and in our Facebook feeds, telling us conflicting things about what it means to be an American at the dawn of 2016.

All of this went down at the same time as so many other unsettling or downright terrifying events—San Bernardino, Paris, Syria, the monstrous rhetoric of Donald Trump—and yet they’re the two stories that I can’t stop thinking about. The Warriors are my refuge from the awful reality of Woods. And Woods is my stinging reminder that the Warriors serve to distance us from a darker truth. Both are fundamental to who and what we are as a society. 

It’s important that we recognize the full bloom of humanity that’s on display every time Steph Curry sinks a gorgeous three. That is who we want to be. But it’s also crucial that we reckon with the loss of humanity every time a black man is killed by the cops. That is who we are. The officers who shot Woods believed that they were justified. Well, to hell with that. There is no way, in my opinion, that a reasonable person can witness those videos and conclude that the police had no choice but to execute Woods. The system that ingrains such notions in cops’ minds needs to change. The tools at their disposal need to be improved (“back to batons,” suggested a friend of mine). The training they receive needs to be rethought. And their rationalization that they were, in fact, right to shoot Woods needs to be challenged by those who lead them.

Mario Woods should be in a jail cell or a hospital right now, not a grave. Not even the Warriors should distract us from that fact.


Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco

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