The July 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Corruption at Oakland Housing Authority

Shot Through the Heart in S.F.

Legal Challenge to Cruel Attacks on SF Homeless

GRIP's Shelter in Richmond

HUD Plans to Demolish Public Housing in New Orleans

Fresno Homeless Attacked

Stonewalling by Bush's ICH on Homeless Issues

Are We Not Our Brother's Keeper

Congress Refuses to Raise the Minimum Wage

Beyond Prisons: Challenge to the Prison System

Penal Servitude

The U.S. Racial Wealth Gap

Poor Working Conditions for Immigrants

AFSC Sues Defense Dept. for Surveillance

Surveillance and Orwell's 1984

Enron's Good Fight

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Self-Realization

July Poetry of the Streets

Child Slavery on African Cocoa Farms

The Worth of Education in the Phillipines


ARCHIVES

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Shot Right Through The Heart

by Carol Harvey

In San Francisco, Idriss Stelley's mother Mesha (center) leads marchers protesting the police shootings of young black men.

'I put a lot of love into him'

A youngish African American woman with curls and braids in her hair sat a few chairs away from me in the Emergency Room watching television. She shifted her weight. A tear coursed down her cheek, tracing a track on the side of her face. She glanced at me, rubbing a tissue over her eyes. The show was about a kid who shot another kid. "That's sad," I observed.

"My son was shot a month ago," she said.

"I'm so sorry," I gasped.

"A drive-by near the Market Street Safeway," she said. "The female MUNI driver got off the bus and looked in his face. She told me, 'He stared up with big wondering eyes. I could tell he was a really good person.' He was 26 years old, always just a quiet, good kid. He didn't deserve that."

"He did not deserve that," I agreed.

She shared her grief freely. Tears poured from her eyes. "He would sit in his room," she continued. "We would talk. He told me everything he was doing. He was naturally quiet. No trouble. No drugs. No alcohol. Good job. He went to computer school and worked at a tech center."

Her son was the second oldest of four children, with an older brother, and two little sisters, ages 2 and 4. "We live in the Avenues," she said. "We had a big community gathering, a service for him. People told me, 'He was such a loving person. He did not deserve this.' I wake up crying, I go to sleep crying. My husband, my older son, and my two little daughters cry all the time. I was holding my two-year-old baby girl in my lap today. She looked at me and said, 'Mom. I miss Jimmy '

"I'm in the ER because two weeks ago some guy slammed into me at a light, then drove off. I chased him and stopped him. I hurt inside and out. My oldest son told me, 'Mom, go and see if something is broken. You can't let this go.'"

She waited in the ER huddled in the chair. I stayed with her, not asking her name. She said, "I ask God, 'What did he do? He never did anything wrong. He was always so good -- just quiet and nice -- everybody liked him. Why did this happen?' I don't understand it. It doesn't make any sense."

"The really hard thing," I offered, "is it seems so meaningless. I can see how much love you put into him."

"Yes," she agreed. "I put a lot of love into him."

What's going on?

Three days later, at a spring cookout for civil rights in San Francisco's Bayview, I was again stunned by the revelations of an attractive, well-spoken woman in a slim ivory suit who described the killing of her 21-year-old son. She told me, "My son, Michael William Helton II, was murdered January 19, 2005, an innocent passenger in a drive-by shooting."

Two murders in three days. A tragic pattern is emerging.

Antoinette Redwood Gibson expressed the same amazement and confusion as my Emergency Room friend, saying, "There is something going on. I don't know what's going on. He was not into the street thing. He had a family -- a child, 3, and a brand new son. He graduated from the carpentry union."

Antoinette Gibson said her son was working and shaping up to be a good father, but unfortunately, he will never get the chance to give his children that love and guidance. "Kids are killing each other every day," she said. "They are getting big weapons from somewhere. I have seen 14, 15, 16-year-olds walking around with warfare ammunition - MAC-10s, 11s, 9s. I can't understand that."

Another woman told me she has seen Bayview youth hefting AK-47s. Some believe drugs and guns were introduced into at-risk communities like Bayview and Western Addition, just as many people in the black community charge was purposely done by the CIA in Los Angeles to facilitate ethnic cleansing.

However the weapons are brought in, "they are coming to the low-income minority areas. I don't understand that," declared Antoinette. Antoinette once lived in the Richmond District, where "there is such a big difference. The supermarkets, even the streets at night."

She said that her child's files were in the Homicide Department right now, sitting on one lieutenant's desk. "The murderer is loose," she said. "They haven't found anything -- no leads, nothing. This is something I don't understand. In a sense, I do understand, because there are so many files -- so many -- on that person's desk. I have sympathy for that lieutenant. Does anyone have it for me?"

Antoinette and her family lived in the Bayview for more than 40 years, stretching back to her grandparents and great-grandparents. "I'll be 42 in October," she said. "I have seven children aged 15 to 24" -- the at-risk ages for getting guns and taking bullets. Antoinette insisted things have drastically changed from when she was growing up 15 years ago. She doesn't understand why the police can't slow down the drugs and homicides. "These kids are killing people and walking around here like nothing happened."

"No repercussion?" I asked.

"There is nothing. Nothing," she replied. Antoinette said kids are out of school, hanging around. "They graduated without that proficiency test." They think they've accomplished something, but "they haven't done anything, because the schools aren't tight like they should be." She asked, "So, what will happen to these minority areas where drugs are infesting? The homicides are high as hell. Something has to work because we are going to be killed off."

Death by cop

On June 6, 2006, two days after that cookout, Asa Sullivan, a 25-year-old African American man, was shot by Officers John Keesor, 35, and Michelle Alvis, 26, of the Taraval Station. Neighbors at the Villa's Parkmerced complex in the sometimes cold and foggy, sometimes sunny, area near San Francisco State University complained about possible squatters and parties, later denied by building management.

Asa Sullivan and Jason Martin, 25, were guests of the unit's tenants, who, though under threat of eviction, still held legal tenancy. The two were living in the apartment, and making repairs to help the tenants collect their security deposit.

Police arrived at the front door at 9:00 p.m. Asa was reportedly on probation after a marijuana conviction and a 1999 robbery. Fearing more jail time, Asa crawled through a duct in Martin's bedroom closet to hide in an attic-like crawl space about 30 inches high. Officers Keesor and Alvis entered the unit, following Asa into the narrow opening. Asa cowered in a corner behind some insulation, holding a glasses case.

The officers decided he was pointing a gun at Michelle Alvis. Firing at the terrified young man, John Keesor hit Alvis in her ear. Concluding that Asa shot her, Alvis unloaded a round into Asa's trapped body, killing him. Police falsely reported that Asa shot at officers through the attic floor. Chief Heather Fong later admitted no weapon was found.

Jason Martin told police in advance that Asa had no gun. When asked whether Asa was drinking, Martin adamantly said he was "100 percent sober."

Asa had a job at Goodwill Industries and was the father of a five-year-old son.

Paying her respects to the Sullivan family and Kathy Espinoza, Asa's grieving mother, Mesha Irizarry of the Idriss Stelley Foundation attended the funeral. At Asa's casket, she was shocked by the heavy white makeup spread over the concealer the morticians used to hide extensive facial reconstruction where one bullet penetrated Asa's eye, another his skull, as projectiles caromed around the tiny attic.

Both officers were returned to duty. How often has this Keystone Cops scenario been repeated? Human Rights Watch counted 17 victims in the past 10 years.

One of these was Brian Sullivan, shot to death on July 15, 1993, by Officer William Henry Wohler, Jr. at his parent's Excelsior District home. When Wohler responded to a call about Brian, the victim pedaled away on his bike carrying an unloaded shotgun. Brian rode into the garage, closing the door through which Wohler fired. As Brian climbed a ladder to the roof without his weapon, Wohler shot up through Brian's body, a bullet to the heart. Wohler lied about this later, but shell casings and a witness were found. In the five previous years, 14 citizen complaints were filed against this rogue cop.

'We called him the shaman'

Idriss "E" Stelley, Mesha Monge-Irizzary's son, was shot 48 times on June 13, 2001, by nine SFPD officers as they burst into a Sony Metreon auditorium at 4th and Mission in San Francisco, where Idriss sat alone.

Idriss had called Mesha that very morning, saying that unless he had $2,000, he was a dead man. He apparently knew what was coming, warning his girlfriend and theater patrons, "Leave now. Something bad could happen."

"Idriss was being racketeered," said Mesha, "but I will never know what the deal was." Idriss was not involved in crime nor did he lack money. He tutored advanced math, Spanish, English, and French at City College, helping undocumented immigrants get jobs.

About 700 mourners attended the funeral service for Idriss at the Bayview's Cornerstone Baptist Church. His professors eulogized him, insisting, "Idriss was not crazy. We called him the Shaman, our spiritual teacher, because he counseled people in many spiritualities."

Police and the media created a fiction that Idriss had mental problems and was off his medications. "He had never been on medications," Mesha said. "He was studying computer programming." Idriss graduated number one out of 90 students at Opnet, an advanced web design program at Heald College.

As the director of the Idriss Stelley Foundation on Police Accountability issues, Mesha draws parallels between the shootings of Asa Sullivan and her son -- both are symbols of the "stolen lives" of black and brown young males killed by the S.F. Police Department.

The anniversaries of the killings of Asa Sullivan and Idriss Stelley are seven days apart, occurring on June 6, 2006, and June 13, 2001. Officers called both killings "suicide by cop." Both young men were shot in the head, creating massive skull fragmentation. In both cases, shots ricocheted and struck officers.

The corporate press minimized the numbers of bullets shot into their bodies, and, along with the SFPD, suggested the victims were "crazy" criminals on drugs.

SFPD officers have shot and/or killed many other unarmed victims, including an asthmatic who died in restraints, a paraplegic with prosthetic legs, a 100-pound mentally disabled man, a robbery victim, and a girl surrendering with her hands in the air. They repeatedly kicked and pepper-sprayed one victim into a state of asphyxiation, then abandoned him, hog-tied and gagged, to smother in their van.

The incontrovertible fact remains that the major number of these police shootings were of young men of color in their mid-twenties.

'I could have been Asa'

At 11:50 p.m., on October 7, 2005, Mission Station SFPD Officers Raymond Lee and Angel Lozano forced a key from front desk management of the All Star Hotel at 16th and Folsom, and entered unannounced, without a warrant, into the hotel room of 28-year-old Marlon Crump. Marlon was at home watching "South Park." The metallic sound of his door lock turning startled him. "Shocked and horrified, I jumped up," he said. "My door flew open. A dozen officers rushed in, weapons drawn, shouting obscenities."

The police ordered him to "Get your hands up now, M-Fer!" He immediately complied by throwing himself face down spread-eagled on his bed. "I felt the ice-cold steel of handcuffs placed around my wrists," he said. Officers Lee and Lozano forced Marlon into the hall, and interrogated him there "about my life," then paraded him past neighbors to the street for a "cold show" for witnesses in a car.

The police report disclosed the actual suspect was clothed in a brown jacket, and was 4 inches shorter than 6'3" Marlon. Marlon wears a full-length black leather coat. At his weekly appearances before the Police Commissioners, Marlon dresses impeccably and wears his hair slicked back in a fashionable braid.

Marlon's full compliance with police orders, in the face of shock and surprise, probably saved his life. Poised and intelligent, Marlon acted immediately to heal from trauma, taking assertive steps to defend himself. The Office of Citizen Complaints recently sustained the primary factors in his case -- "entering my place and having me in handcuffs without just cause, and pointing guns in my face." Yet, he still suffers post-traumatic stress that inhibits his concentration while he studies for his GED, and results in hyper-vigilance and "being extremely cautious."

"If I so much as blinked, I would have been like Asa Sullivan," Marlon said. "He was killed in his own place, and they called it squatting. What would have happened if that was me? How many bullets would have entered my body (or) hit a neighbor? The officer would have written it up, 'Robbery suspect shoots it out with the SFPD in his own room.' Everybody would have known that was pretty much crap."

Marlon said he was worried about the recent 5-4 Supreme Court ruling where the justices upheld admission of evidence seized without the proper execution of a search warrant. "They have no idea of the ramifications," he said. "If (a resident) doesn't know who is coming through that door, the guy might have a gun in his hand and open fire."

Dan Landry, Chairman of the Western Addition branch of the African American Community Police Relations Board, (AACPRB) noted that every year since Mayor Willie Brown's administration, homicides have increased, with 98 in 2005, and 37 by mid-year 2006.

The Plan

On June 9, 2006, at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in Western Addition, a joint meeting of police commissioners and supervisors was held to hear the mayor, police chief, and Office of Citizen Complaints reports on violence prevention. Landry broke into the agenda, acting forcefully as spokesperson for a community-generated proposal popularly called "The Plan," which has been five years in negotiations between the community and the City of San Francisco.

Landry called it a "well-written and comprehensive" proposal to which the City committed itself with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on April 10, 2002. He asserted that, with murders and homicides on the rise since the plan was presented, the community may have grounds for legal action.

The S.F. Police Department, the mayor, and other "hidden forces," are "resisting systemic change" and reform in not signing off on the Community Policing Plan, said Landry. They "do not want to see the community take control and actually be the true voice" of the people.

Marylon Boyd, mother of Cammerin Boyd, a young black man with prosthetic legs killed in the Western Addition by SFPD officers on May 5, 2004, testified before the Police Commission on June 14, 2006, that the community-driven plan "addresses the issues." Chief Fong "has the power and the authority" to adopt The Plan, Boyd said, "but she won't do that."

"If you want to stop the homicides," said Landry, "you have to get the community involved. We (AACPRB) are the only ones -- not the City, not the Board of Supervisors -- that have the juice to get the trust of the community and to break down the barriers in relationship with law enforcement."

Landry denied the public perception that there are "a thousand people walking around doing killings. A handful with family ties throughout Western Addition, Bayview, Poterero Hill and Visitacion Valley" are "making a lot of chaos."

Landry and Antoinette Gibson want to communicate with "the little brothers who wear their pants sagging. They trust and respect my track record, because they not only know I'm from that (background), but I represent them-the ones who don't have a voice."

Gibson said she wants to "step forth and speak out to the kids. I've been in the drug scene, the fast lane, the gangster life. That life is death." She would tell them that blessings come "when you do the right thing." You feel good, and you walk with pride, and confidence.

What has caused youth shootings to soar in the past few years? FBI Uniform Preliminary Annual Crime Report figures on June 12, 2006, report that in 2005, "law enforcement agencies throughout the nation reported an increase of 2.5 percent in the number of violent crimes"-murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault-over 2004.

Could this rise be attributed, in part, to the death mentality the Bush administration fostered via attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, and threats to invade Iran? When the national consciousness focuses on war and guns, that mindset emerges first in the impressionable youth population. One thing is sure. Our nation is instigating a wave of militaristic violence, at home and abroad. Police overreaction at home parallels military overreaction overseas. Lies at the top are a license to kill.

To help the Idriss Stelley Foundation continue its vital Police Accountability work via its 24-hour hotline, counseling, support groups, coalition building, webcasts and websites for justice, please send donations to:

Idriss Stelley Foundation
4921 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94124
(415) 595-8251 (Hotline)


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