I’ve written so much about gun violence in the last year alone, the broken record has become like the movie, “Groundhog Day.”
You think the president is tired of it?
People who have had a bullet shatter their lives with the loss of a loved one know all too well.
And the best NRA supporters can say is “gun up.” This isn’t a matter of self-defense. This is about public policy now. Guns, and more guns, is like adding one too many jalapeno into the pot. We don’t need more.
Enough is enough.
My cousin Stephen was just a single death. But it doesn’t matter. They all add up. They all didn’t have to happen. And they only happened because laws enabled shooters to become killers.
The 2nd Amendment shouldn’t be open season on Americans.
Stephen Guillermo was shot and killed by a retired security guard in San Francisco on May 3, 2014.
It’s been a year now.
The family still hopes we matter in the eyes of the law. But we are still waiting for the DA to share with us records on his case.
Meanwhile, I wrote this piece for my amok column on the AALDEF blog earlier this year.
It’s about a man in Montana who was prosecuted despite the Castle Doctrine defense, which says you can protect your home if an intruder enters and shoot to kill. The presumption is the intruder will do harm, so shoot.
But you can make a mistake.
The shooter in Stephen’s case did.
However, the law is so tough most DAs in the country where the Castle Doctrine applies don’t want to touch these cases.
Blemishes the record.
In San Francisco, they still don’t want to touch Stephen’s case.
In the column I ask SF DA George Gascon about challenging the Castle Doctrine in San Francisco in the same way he campaigned for Prop. 47.
READ THE COLUMN:
Markus Kaarma and Stephen Guillermo
Markus Kaarma’s case is not about police, but about a private individual taking the law into his own hands and relying on Castle Doctrine laws to justify killing an unarmed person.
It was vigilante justice. And Kaarma was wrong.
You may have heard of Kaarma, 29, a Korean American from Montana. His case didn’t get a lot of play nationally last week, perhaps because he was convicted of deliberate homicide last December.
But his recent sentencing hearing was quite a shocker.
Kaarma thought the Castle Doctrine gave him the right to shoot to kill in order to protect his home. Instead, he was sentenced to 70 years in prison for murdering Diren Dede, a 17-year-old German exchange student.
“You didn’t protect your residence, you went hunting. And here you have a 12 gauge shotgun that’s loaded. Not to protect your family, but to go after somebody,” said Missoula District Judge Ed McLean on Feb. 12.
The sentence was a surprise. But so was the prosecutor’s initial decision to go forward and charge Kaarma in the first place. That’s been my experience with DAs when it comes to self-defense cases in which the Castle Doctrine is invoked.
I’ve written about Stephen numerous times. And from a victim’s point of view, there are some similarities in the Kaarma case.
Stephen went by mistake to the wrong apartment in his building. The apartment was not his but that of an African immigrant, a retired security guard. Witnesses said they heard no break-in. If so, the door may have been opened so that an unarmed Stephen walked into the apartment and was shot to death by the armed retired security guard.
In Montana, Kaarma left his garage door open, hoping his suspected teenage prankster burglars would come in. When they did, motion detectors alerted Kaarma, who then fired a shotgun four times killing an unarmed teenage intruder in the garage.
Many DAs feel just having a dead body in the house makes the Castle defense unbeatable.
But I’ve always argued that the shooter still must show that he acted reasonably in using deadly force.
Now that Kaarma’s Castle defense failed and his 70 year sentence issued, I’m beginning to feel this could be a breakthrough moment.
Not necessarily for my cousin Stephen’s case.
The San Francisco DA George Gascon had arrested Stephen’s killer, refused to prosecute, and let him go.
No, my hope is that Kaarma’s conviction and sentencing will set the example to rework the homicide laws so that DAs don’t see going up against the Castle defense as a defeat. Prosecutors want to have a winning record. Preferably a win in every case.
Last October, I asked DA Gascon what he needed in order to prosecute anything.
Of course, he said he had to have the facts and the legal analysis. But Gascon also added: “A prosecutor would be violating his ethical obligation if he didn’t believe he could prosecute successfully.”
In other words, it really is “Just win, baby.”
Or “just believe you can win,” a form of political will.
When I mentioned challenging the Castle doctrine, Gascon said individual cases weren’t the place to take ethical, moral, or courageous stands.
As a proper example of when to take a stand, he pointed to his advocacy of California’s Prop. 47, which has re-codified California law in order to lower the high incarceration rates of people with mental health and substance abuse problems. Why? Because, as Gascon said, “It doesn’t work.”
Well, Castle really doesn’t work either. Not if you want to prevent innocent people from being killed.
Gascon may have quivered before the Castle Doctrine in the past. But now maybe he’ll take a stand–not for my cousin’s individual case–but for future victims who could be murdered by vigilantes who want to use their guns whenever feel threatened in their home. Even if they’re wrong.
Stephen officially is a graduated member of San Francisco State University’s class of 2014.
Thanks to the school, and to the head of the International Relations Department, Dr. Sophie Clavier. When I contacted her in May, graduation was just a few weeks away. But she knew the importance of a posthumous degree and cut through the red-tape to make it all possible.
Fitting that the event was in the Oakes Room, named for Richard Oakes, a Mohawk activist who reclaimed Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay for native peoples and occupied it from 1969-1971. He was instrumental in changing how the U.S. government dealt with Native Americans, and he helped establish Native American studies at SFSU. But the ultimate coincidence is that Oakes was also gunned down in an altercation.
The ceremony began with a little “Pomp and Circumstance.” Stephen should have been able to hear that song and march along. He didn’t get that privilege in life. So we had to play it on our portable speaker. The cousins made some great photo boards, and Stephen’s sister Sharmaine assembled a very touching video tribute.
It was a great event.
But the big deal was the paper. And here it is.
He may not need it where he is now. And yes, the ceremony was as much for the living as it was for Stephen.
But the paper still acknowledges his life was far from wasted. In his short life, he has achieved a great and valuable thing.
And now we are left to wonder what an International Relations degree with his enormous smile and heart could have accomplished.
UPDATE, THURSDAY, JUNE 19, 2014
The day has come. At 2pm, the posthumous graduation of Stephen Guillermo will take place in the Oakes Multi-Cultural Room in the Chavez Center at San Francisco State, 1600 Holloway in San Francisco.
Check out my column here on the blog of the magazine, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
As I mentioned, Stephen worked too hard for that degree and the dream it represented, to have it taken from him when he was shot to death.
Stephen doesn’t need the degree nor the credits where he is now.
But this, the last of the expected ceremonies—spiritual and secular—is needed by all those who were close to Stephen.
We may not get the justice we want for him. Not now, maybe not ever.
But we did get him his diploma.
Higher ed was the most important goal in his young life, and it turned out to be his ultimate achievement.
It’s got to be worth something even now, if it’s worth anything at all.
The living need to know and affirm that Stephen did not die in vain.
UPDATE, FRIDAY,JUNE 13,2014, 12noon
Stephen will be graduating on June 19th. SF State will grant him a posthumous degree. If you want to attend, email me at email@example.com.
Too many deaths have taken place since Stephen made the news. Seattle? Oregon? Vegas? Santa Barbara? Not one more? #TooMany.
Obama’s statement this week about his frustration is disappointing. When the commander-in-chief can’t tell people to lay down their arms, we’ve got a problem.
Father’s Day coming up. Stephen was a surrogate dad to his younger siblings.
WE MET WITH THE DA: SF Asst. DA David Merin met with Stephen’s family Tuesday night in San Francisco. I’m not sure it was better than prayer, but it did help us understand where things were in the investigation.
Merin is open minded and is still looking for and at evidence. We want him to take his time.
If you know anything about the case or the people involved, please call the SF DA at 415.553.1751.
Stephen was a legal immigrant. But he was undocumented in one respect. He didn’t have his bachelor’s degree. He was to get it from SF State this year in May. Now the International Relations Department has granted him his degree. The first in his immediate family to achieve the goal and a great example to his younger siblings and relatives. Ceremony won’t be this Saturday, but in a special event this summer. Stay tuned. It’s a small bit of justice. Now it’s the San Francisco District Attorney’s turn to value Stephen’s life and bring his killer to justice.
Thanks to all the people who attended my public eulogy for Stephen. If you missed it you can still fill out a survey to help the Rockefeller Aspen Diaspora project find ways to provide philanthropic help to the Philippines.
Stephen’s body was buried, but he is not forgotten.
I will talk about the case and Stephen’s role in the timeline of Filipino history, touching on immigration and the Diaspora. Stephen was part of an historical legacy of injustice that makes his death even more tragic.
Date: Monday, May 19, 6pm
Place: Philippine Consulate, 447 Sutter , SF
It’s free. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Aspen Diaspora program.
Even if you can’t make it. Please fill out this survey:
THE PHILIPPINE DIASPORA is evident in my family as relatives from Canada and Europe have come for Stephen’s funeral.
At the viewing, I noticed Stephen will be buried in his Giants jersey.
Public viewing is tonight at Duggan’s in Daly City. The funeral is on Thursday.
Still, nothing from the SF District Attorney. The case is still open, but sources say charges against Kachepa are highly unlikely. On Tuesday, I waited over four hours to give a two minute urging to the Board of Supervisors to let the DA know that there is enough to charge Kachepa. Read my piece at www.aaldef.org/blog to see the questions I’ve raised. If Kachepa let in or could see Stephen through the peephole, why couldn’t he simply tell Stephen he had come to the wrong door? Kachepa, a former security guard knew he could use his gun. This law overprotects gun owners, and underprotects the innocents who get killed by accident. As I told the board on Tuesday, why is a Montana DA challenging a similar type “Castle” case, but the DA in liberal San Francisco? He can and should do the right thing. Charge Mr. Kachepa in the death of Stephen Guillermo.
Stephen Guillermo, half the size of Kachepa, unathletic, and ineffective after a night of drinking, simply posed no threat to any reasonable person.
I’LL TALK MORE ABOUT THE CASE, Monday, May 19
I will be speaking about the murder and how it connects to the Philippine Diaspora on Monday, May 19, 6pm at the Philippine Consulate at 447 Sutter in San Francisco.
It’s free, and there will be food. It’s sponsored by the Rockefeller Aspen Diaspora program.
Thanks to the SF Giants for putting up what essentially is a scoreboard tombstone for my cousin at yesterday’s game. Stephen loved the Giants, and attended the Padre series the week of his murder. He would have been at the Giants’ Filipino Heritage night.
The Giants won, Tim Lincecum struck out 11 and had his best game of the year, and afterwards in the clubhouse expressed his sorrow about Stephen’s murder.
Lincecum, part Filipino is a community hero, and was a favorite of Stephen’s.
Now it’s time for the DA to step up to the plate. How can the DA in Montana challenge the Castle laws in that gun-friendly state , but not in San Francisco?
Let’s hope the DA takes the time to reconsider the matter for the sake of justice.
UPDATE: MONDAY, 5/12/14, 8AM
After a mournful Mother’s Day, the family prepares to bury Stephen.
We hope the SF DA George Gascon will take the time to go over the police investigation and consider charging the released suspect.
We ask that people who support the family send a message to the DAs office at 415.553.1751 and let them know Stephen deserves justice. The shooter needs to explain his action, was deadly force justifiable? Why not let a jury decide?
THE FAMILY’S MOURNING BEGINS: it has now been a week since the murder of Stephen Guillermo, the San Francisco DA’s Office has been given the file from the SF Police Dept.
A mass will be said Saturday, May 10.
Where: St. Patrick’s Church at 1:30 p.m.
Address: 756 Mission St., San Francisco
Let’s hope that as the family begins its mourning time, the SF District Attorney’s Office will begin to look at the facts in earnest. Since the suspect was already release, the DA has no deadline and can leisurely look at the case. The DA has full discretion. Cases have been charged and convicted on less than what he has. Let’s hope he has the courage to do the right thing for Stephen Guillermo.
SFPD has sent “reinvestigated” file back to SF District Attorney George Gascon, and now DA has a second chance to do the right thing. Let’s hope he considers the witness who indicates this was not a break-in nor home invasion, and that Amisi Kachepa was wrong to use deadly force against a small, unarmed, non-threatening, inebriated Stephen Guillermo who was merely in the wrong apartment.
We are gathering for another lunchtime vigil at 11:30 at the SF Hall of Justice to remind the DA there’s a way to find justice in this senseless tragedy. see www.facebook.com/emilguillermomedia
Hard to believe that in a city that takes a stand on everything from nuclear power to immigration, there is not the political will to take on the gun lobby in a meaningful way. The DA had a time limit of 48 hours, not four days, as I was told originally by a court clerk. And as I tried to speak the truth in two-minutes before the board, I was running out of time. By late afternoon, the police report was going to the board, and by 6pm if the decision was made there would not be enough to charge, the suspect would be let go.
That was DA Gascon’s choice.
Why? There was enough to charge and hold. Now the man is back in the same apartment building where he shot Stephen.
We are outraged. But controlled. We want the justice system to be outraged for us.
Despite our efforts of the family at the Board of Supervisors, it didn’t matter. The standard of the DA was much higher to risk his win/loss record, I guess.
That’s what having zero “political will,” means. I guess he doesn’t think Filipino Americans or Asian Americans vote in San Francisco.
But the family has will. And the fight continues for #justiceforStephen. There will be a vigil at the Hall of Justice today, 850 Bryant around the lunch hour.
We will also be at the Police Commission meeting at SF CITY HALL today at 5:30.
As I said, we are outraged, but controlled. We will raise real questions today.
SFPD Chief Greg Suhr boasted this week about a low homicide rate for the first quarter. Personally, the Guillermo family murder stats in SF are up by an infinite amount
Homicides at an all-time low in the history of San Francisco? Tell that to my family.
My cousin Stephen Guillermo, 26, was gunned down last night in the city.
My relatives tell me, he came home and mistakenly tried to enter the wrong apartment. Stephen lived on the fifth floor. He mistakenly tried to enter the same apartment on the 3rd floor.
The resident of the third floor apartment was armed and is alleged to have shot Stephen, whom he might have mistaken for an intruder.
The older resident apparently felt he needed a gun to live in his urban apartment on Mission and 5th Street.
This is how safe the city is when one only feels secure when armed and dangerous.
That’s the situation that leaves an innocent 26-year old dead.
My cousin, who took the journey my dad had taken 70 years before him, came to San Francisco from the Philippines and was living his American life. Stephan had some time off work and was officially on his “long weekend.” He was planning a mini-road trip. I saw he went to see the Giants this week. I was going to give him my tickets to the next home stand.
I never got to see him again.
Sorry, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr.
Boast all you want about how the city has had just four homicides in the city to date, compared to 12 in the same time last year.
Numbers don’t mean a thing.
Especially on an individual basis. The Guillermo family had no murders last quarter. None last year. None ever. And I’m a native San Franciscan with a long history in the city.
But we had one last night. Do the math. Since you can’t divide by zero, that put our percentage increase at INFINITY.
That’s how ridiculous crime stats are. They don’t tell how safe the city is, nor how safe people feel in the city.
City crime stats surely can’t explain the sad logic of my cousin’s senseless death.
UPDATE 11:52 a.m. 5/3/2014 FROM SFPD:
At approximately 1:40 AM this morning, San Francisco Police responded to an apartment building on the 900 block of Mission Street for a report of a shooting. Officers arrived on scene and located a shooting victim, male 26 years old, in an apartment. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene by medical personnel. The suspect in this incident was located at the scene, arrested and booked into San Francisco County jail. He is identified as Amisi Sudi Kachepa, 68 years old, San Francisco resident. He was booked into county jail on a homicide charge. His booking photo will not be released at this time
I just got this statement from SFPD–
SAN FRANCISCO POLICE STATEMENT REGARDING HOMICIDE ON THE 900 BLOCK OF MISSION STREET
At approximately 1:40 AM this morning, San Francisco Police responded to an apartment building on the 900 block of Mission Street for a report of a shooting. Officers arrived on scene and located a shooting victim in an apartment. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene by medical personnel. Homicide investigators are actively investigating the incident. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call San Francisco Police. SFPD: 415-553-0123