I Will Not Go Quietly....

root - Posted on 26 August 2002

March against Police Brutality and Solidarity with Idriss Stelly

by Alexandra Cuff/PNN Media Intern

The somber, porcelain sky seemed appropriate and welcoming on the year anniversary of the death of Idriss Stelley. Last Thursday at 5:30pm, I joined scores of people who gathered at 4th and Mission for the healing and celebratory funeral procession which mourned the loss of the recent victims of police violence and celebrated the small victories being won by raising consciousness around this issue. The brightly lit Metreon with itís artificiality and consume! motif proved a contrast to the theme of truth, pain, and revolution of the people gathering outside. In the half hour before 6pm, people from a wide breadth of backgrounds came together to protest the wrongful murder of Idriss Stelly and several other victims of police brutality.

On June 13th 2001, Idriss Stelley, who had a history of mental illness, was shot 26 times inside a Metreon theater. His girlfriend, Summer, had called in a 5150, the police code for someone in psychiatric distress, and the ìhelpî she received was reactionary and unprofessional. The ìhelpî was the murder of her fiance. Since that day, we have seen other examples of unwarranted police violence. Gregory Hooper, Richard Tims, and Richard Rosenberg are other subjects of the epidemic of racial profiling and brutality against the poor and people sufferring from mental illness.


Although it was real that the friends and families of these men were in mourning, the struggle and solidarity of those who showed up on this raw evening seemed the beginning of a victory to me. Among the procession of strollers, bikes, wheelchairs, and walkers were members of the community present to support the resistance of the criminalization of poverty, race, and mental illness. Some of the marchers were silent and crying, others were unfaltering as they chanted demands of justice. During the march to city hall, I met Latino and African Descendant brothers and sisters as well as people from France and Russia. Children walked along drummers who walked among the beautiful paper-mache puppets that were brought along by Art and Revolution.

In the midst of Idriss's family and friends were several folk from the Senior Action Network, PoorNewsNetwork/POOR Magazine, Coalition on Homelessness, SF Indymedia, the October 22 Coalition, Police Watch, and the Police Watch/ Ella Baker Center, the organizer of the event. Sixty to eighty of us marched down Mission, up 5th and then down Market inspired along the way by the voice of Jakada Imani of the Ella Baker Center, by the drummers, and I believe by the common knowledge that justice comes not from the court but from the noise in the streets. From the Metreon to the steps of city hall, the SFPD stood by close and powerless. When I asked one of the officers why they were there, he responded: To protect you, the marchers. I found this ironic and was embarrassed for him considering that the protest was about the role of the cops as controllers, not protectors.

Once on the steps of city hall, a number of impassioned folk addressed us, the listeners. The most touching to me was listening to Mesha, Idriss' mother, who shared her experience of seeing Idriss after the shooting with ìhis incredible smile frozen in death.î I was amazed at her strength. There was no indignation in her voice when she told us of a dream where Idriss came to her and said, "Ma, you see, we're on a rampage for healing, you and me." She thanked the community for coming together for healing and to advocate for police accountability.

As we stood there together in the cold, some of us hopping from one foot to the other keeping warm and children half listening, half dancing to the occasional song or drum beat, I felt what I didnít expect to feel, with so much injustice in this city. I felt hope. Marie, columnist for the San Francisco Bayview, a friend of Mesha and the godmother of Idriss, told the indifferent-seeming police who were standing at their posts surrounding the ceremony: I will not go quietly into the dark today. She forgave the police. She told us that she was absolving us of the responsibility and forgiving them for us! As Marie was doing this, some of us turned around to see the reaction of the cops - I saw them sink into themselves, into their tough, black armor. They did not acknowledge us.

Mary people carried signs which read: Their deaths were not in vain. Through community support, media organizing and solidarity over the past year, and by acting on what Marie said so gracefully about not going into the dark quietly, the police are going to start receiving mandatory Psychiatric Crisis Intervention (PCI)  training. Over the next 4 years, all 1st responders (of 911 calls) will receive PCI. Each year, 25% of officers will be trained 40-hours over a week which is supposed to enable them to handle any crisis where someone is in mental distress. We are hoping this will end the ìshoot first, ask questions later policy that exists now and continues to cause the senceless crimes against beautiful young men of color in crisis like Idriss Stelly and Joseph Tims


Sign-up for POOR email!