San Francisco police chief quits amid race row

The scene of Thursdays shooting. Picture: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Examiner

The scene of Thursdays shooting. Picture: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Examiner

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San Francisco’s police chief has resigned at the request of the mayor hours after an officer fatally shot a young black woman driving a stolen car – the culmination of several racially charged incidents in the past year.

Pressure had been mounting for the resignation of Chief Greg Suhr since last December, when five officers fatally shot a young black man carrying a knife. Since then, there have been protests, moves to reform the police department and a federal review of its protocol.

Mayor Ed Lee supported the chief in December and again in April after it was disclosed that three officers had exchanged racist text messages.

The texting scandal was the second to rock the department after it was disclosed that several officers had exchanged racist messages dating back to before Mr Suhr was chief. But he was criticised for moving too slowly to fire the offending officers, all of whom have retained their jobs because of the chief’s failure to start disciplinary action when he first found out about the inappropriate.

Mr Suhr could not be reached for comment.

Protesters demanding his resignation drowned out the mayor’s second inaugural speech in January, and demonstrators forced the mayor to abandon a planned speech on Martin Luther King Jr Day later that month.

Nonetheless, the mayor stood behind the chief, and the two announced a series of reforms aimed at reducing police shootings. The two also called in the US Department of Justice to review the department’s policy and procedures.

Mr Suhr renewed his call for reform on 8 April after an officer shot and killed a Latino homeless man who police said refused orders to drop a large knife. But Mr Suhr lost Lee’s backing on Thursday, after a patrol car prowling an industrial neighbourhood for stolen vehicles came across a 27-year-old black woman sitting behind the wheel of a parked car. Police said the car had been reported stolen.

Officers turned on the patrol car’s lights and sounded its siren, and the woman to sped off in the stolen car. A few seconds later the stolen car slammed into a parked utility truck.

The officers jumped out of the patrol car and raced to the wreckage, where the woman was revving the car in an effort to disengage the auto from the truck. Mr Suhr said a witness reported that the officers opened the driver’s door and began grabbing the woman in attempt to arrest her.

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