The Saturday afternoon shooting by San Leandro Police of Steven Taylor, a 33-year-old African-American man with a history of mental-health issues, is quickly attracting strong criticism from the community, and police accountability activists from across the country. The blowback from the shooting, which was captured on a cell phone video at the Walmart on Hesperian Boulevard, threatens to hit a city government and police department ill-equipped to handle the barrage of criticism and protest about to come its way.
San Leandro Police arrived at the Walmart store in response to reports of a man swinging a baseball bat, the department said. After approaching Taylor, the officers twice used Taser guns to stun the suspect. A video shows Taylor staggering while holding the bat waist-high as one officer opened fire. A trail of blood can be seen on the floor before Taylor fell to the ground, along with screams from customers.
However, it is unclear if the officers shot Taylor while he was on the ground or whether a pop heard on the video was from an officer’s Taser.
Social media was enraged over the weekend as video of the shooting was disseminated on Twitter, Facebook, and later the local news. Some question whether the San Leandro police officers were justified in shooting Taylor when video suggested that he had been neutralized. Others questioned why the officers acted so quickly with what appeared to be a number of Walmart employees and shoppers standing nearby.
San Leandro Police faced criticism last year after officers shot and killed Anthony Gomez, a 56-year-old man who police believed was wielding a firearm on his porch. Gomez also suffered from mental-health issues. Police later found the suspected firearm was actually a piece of wood.
But for hints to how this current shooting in San Leandro may play out in the public, the aftermath of the November 2018 shooting of Agustin Gonsalez by Hayward Police may hold some clues.
Hayward Police said the officer’s decision to open fire was justified because Gonsalez, who they believe was carrying a knife, continued to approach one of the officers despite warnings to stop. The family and activist contend the video showed Gonsalez appearing to surrender before the officer, who had arrived on the same just seven seconds prior, shot and killed him. The Alameda County District Attorney’s office later cleared the three officers involved in the shooting, but cast doubt on whether Gonsalez was actually holding any type of object in his hands. Like Taylor in San Leandro, police officials later learned Gonsalez had struggled recently with mental-health issues.
But in Hayward there was no immediate video evidence of the Gonsalez shooting that could be parsed and disseminated quickly by the general public. Instead, Hayward police later disseminated videos of the shooting in which they used high-production values to merge body-camera video with radio dispatch audio, and police voice-over to make the department’s case to the public. That is a growing trend in law enforcement circles.
Critics, however, believe the videos allow local law enforcement to paint the shootings in the best possible light. San Leandro Police used that type of video production in the Gomez shooting last year. With video of the Taylor shooting already in the public domain while the shooting is still fresh in the memory of the public, San Leandro police are unlikely to benefit from that type of messaging.
The department’s initial goal has seemed to be staying ahead of the story and being as transparent as possible. San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor addressed the community on Facebook Live on Sunday. He called the shooting “tragic,” and acknowledged that members of the public want answers.
San Leandro leaders typically have been inured from the wrath of an angry public. It’s not clear how San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter and councilmembers will react if demonstrations break out. Because of COVID-19 and social distancing, such demonstrations may not initially materialize.
Investigations by the city, police department and Alameda County District Attorney’s office could take months before offering reports. By that time, social-distancing protocols might allow for a much greater degree of public participation. Hayward’s controversy in the Gonsalez case, for example, has continued for more than a year.
Again, using the Gonsalez shooting as an example, Hayward officials repeatedly avoided talking about the shooting because the incident was still under investigation and other privacy concerns, they said. But they also found it difficult to offer condolences to the Gonsalez family until after being severely criticized for a lack of empathy. The situation eventually spiraled out of control over a roughly six-month period last year. Public speakers ferociously lashed at city officials with profanity-laden diatribes. The vitriol led Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday to stop several meetings before, infamously, moving one council meeting to behind closed doors, and without public participation.
San Leandro officials may already be falling into an early similar pattern. On Monday night, Mayor Cutter issued a statement on the Taylor shooting, offering condolences to his family and friends, but neglecting to mention his name. “My heart aches for the lost of life in our community over the past weekend,” she said at the start of Monday night’s council meeting. “It is understandable that people want answers now.” Cutter also added in her comments that Taylor had “passed away,” a reference that angered some public speakers on Monday night.
Aside from the San Leandro City Council lacking the type of battle-hardened demeanor that elected officials in Oakland or Berkeley may possess, San Leandro elected officials, like those in Hayward, are nearly unanimous in their support of law enforcement. For decades, the San Leandro Police Officers Association undoubtedly has been the city’s most powerful political force. Almost every council-member is backed by the police union. Furthermore, the current council also includes Council-member Pete Ballew, a former San Leandro Police lieutenant.
Sporting Events Not Likely To Happen Until Later This Year
Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said sports fans should not expect to be attending sporting events anytime soon.
“I don’t think we’re going to be going to football games or Warriors games in the near future,” Chan said during a telephone town hall with Assembly-member Rob Bonta and other local elected officials.
That includes Alameda County’s lone remaining professional sports franchise, the Oakland Athletics, whose season at the Oakland Coliseum was scheduled to begin last Mar. 26. Major League Baseball, however, is studying an ambitious plan to begin its regular season by staging every game in Arizona and Florida.
Chan’s comments jibe with other Bay Area officials, and Gov. Gavin Newson, who believe the prospects of tens of thousands of fans congregating so soon in stadiums and arenas could reignite a surge in new COVID-19 cases in the fall.
Last week, Santa Clara County public health officials said they would not allow sporting events to be held until November. The timeline would cut into the traditional beginning of the next hockey and football seasons at SAP Center and Levi’s Stadium.
The prospects of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League finishing their current seasons is becoming increasingly unlikely as states and the federal government continue to maintain shelter in place orders.
Major League Soccer, which was only able to play two games before suspending its season last month, is also questioning whether it will be able to play a full season.
The National Football League, and a slate of fall college sports, may not be able to begin training camps and their seasons on time.
In Other News …
As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, California may be heading toward a historic drought, the type that has only occurred four times in the past 1,200 years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. …
Alameda Police faced criticism for posting a photo on Twitter of four female police officers wearing medical masks and appearing to be guard the entrance to the Park Street Bridge. For some, it evoked the city’s long-ago problems with race, the East Bay Citizen reported. The tweet was later deleted. …
A fire early Tuesday morning at Richmond’s Bethel Church caused extensive damage to the structure, KPIX reported. The cause of the fire is not yet determined. … Alameda County’s progressive one-two punch in Congress, Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna, endorsed Joe Biden for president on Monday, the Chron reported. … The Outside Lands music festival is contemplating a move from August to October or even next year, Bloomberg reported. This comes as a number of high-profile acts are putting their tours on ice until the pandemic subsides.