Shot Through the Heart: Why Are Black Youth Dying?

by Carol Harvey on June 23, 2006


A plump, youngish African American Woman with curls and braids sat a few chairs away from me in the ER watching television. She shifted her weight. A tear coursed down her cheek tracing a lighter brown 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.” “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.”

He was the second oldest of four children, an older brother, and little sisters, 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,” she said. “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 E.R. 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,” she said. “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, never discovering her name.

“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.”


Three days later, at a Bayview spring cookout, I was again stunned by the revelations of an attractive, well-spoken woman in a slim ivory suit who described her 21-year-old son’s killing.

“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 pattern emerged.

Antoinette Redwood Gibson expressed the same amazement and confusion as my Emergency Room friend, repeating, “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.” He 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.

“They are getting big weapons from somewhere. I have seen 14, 15, 16-year-olds walking around with warfare ammunition — MAC-10’s, 11’s, 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, as was purposely done by the CIA in Los Angeles to facilitate ethnic cleansing.

Whether they are shipped in on trains or planes, “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 right now her child’s files were in the Homicide Department sitting on one Lieutenant’s desk.

“The murderer is loose. 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 Bay view over forty years — “My grandparents, great grand parents. I’ll be 42 in October. I have 7 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 up15 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? No punishment,?” I asked.

“There is nothing. Nothing”

She 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.”

“So, what will happen to these minority areas where drugs are infesting?” she asks. “The homicides are high as hell. Something has to work because we are going to be killed off.”


On Tuesday, June 6, 2006, two days after the cookout, Asa Sullivan, a 25-year-old African-American man was shot by Officers John Keesor, 35, and Michelle Alvis, 26, Taraval Station. Neighbors at the Villas Parkmerced complex in the sometimes cold and foggy, sometimes sunny, Holloway and 19th Avenue area near San Francisco State University complained about possible squatters and parties, later denied by building management.

Asa 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 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 2-1/2 foot high crawl space.

Keesor and Alvis, the female officer, entered the unit, following Asa into the narrow opening. Asa cowered in a corner behind some insulation, holding a glasses case.

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 Asa shot at officers through the attic floor. Chief Heather Fong later admitted no weapon was found. Jason Martin told police in advance Asa had no gun. When asked whether Asa was drinking, Martin adamantly verified 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 Idriss Stelly Foundation attended the funeral. At Asa’s casket she was shocked by heavy white makeup spread over concealer the morticians used to hide extensive facial reconstruction where one bullet penetrated his eye, another his skull as projectiles carromed around the tiny attic.

Both officers were returned to duty.

How often has this keystone cop scenario been repeated?

Human Rights Watch counted 17 victims in the past 10 years.

One of these was Asa’s cousin, 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 sans 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.


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

Idriss called Mesha the day before, saying 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 Irizarry, ” but I will never know what the deal was.”

Idriss was never involved in crime nor lacked money. He tutored advanced math, Spanish, French at City College, and English, helping undocumented immigrants get jobs.

700 mourners attended Idriss’ funeral service 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 spritualities.”

Police and 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,” said Mesha. Idriss graduated number One out of 90 students at Opnet, an advanced web design program at Heald College.

Director of the Idriss Stelley Foundation on Police Accountability issues, Mesha parallels Asa Sullivan to her son as symbols of the “stolen lives” of mid-20s interracial males by the San Francisco Police Department.

Asa’s and Idriss’ assassinations are seven days apart. Officers called both killings “suicide by cop.” Both 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 discharged into their bodies, and, along with the SFPD, suggested they were “crazy” criminals on drugs.

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

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


At 11:50 p.m.,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, entering unannounced without a warrant the Single Room Occupancy hotel room of 27-year-old Marlon Crump.

Marlon was at home watching “Southpark.” The metallic sound of his door lock turning startled him.

“Shocked and horrified, I jumped up. My door flew open. A dozen officers rushed in, weapons drawn, shouting obscenities,” ordering 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.”

Lee and Lozano forced Marlon into the hall, interrogating him there “about my life,” then paraded him past neighbors to the street for a “cold show” by 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,” slender Marlon. Marlon wears a full length black leather coat. Police ripped the lining during the search. The destruction of his property angered Marlon, who, at his weekly appearances before the Police Commissioners, 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, Marlon suffers post traumatic stress that inhibits concentration while he studies for his GED, hyper-vigilance and “being extremely cautious.”

“If I so much as blinked, I would have been like Asa Sullivan. 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 worried about the recent 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, et al upheld admission of evidence seized without the proper execution of a search warrant.

“They have no idea of the ramifications. 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.

On Wednesday, June 9, 2006 at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in Western Addition, a joint meeting of Police Commissioners and Supervisors was held to hear 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 community and City.

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 San Francisco 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 wheelchair-bound Cammerin Boyd, killed in Western Addition by SFPD May 5, 2004, testified before the Police Commission Wednesday, June 14, 2006 that the community-driven Plan, “addresses the issues.” Chief Fong ” has the power and the authority ” to adopt The Plan, “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 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 (of people with family ties throughout Western Addition, Bayview, Poterero Hill, and Visitacion Valley.”are “making a lot of chaos. “

Community members like Landry and 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 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 “when you do the right thing.” You feel good, and you walk with pride, and confidence.

What caused youth shootings to soar in past years?

June 12, 2006 FBI Uniform Preliminary Annual Crime Report figures suggest 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 to the death mentality the Bush Administration inculcated through 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.

Police over-reaction?

Lies at the top are a license to kill.

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