By Marlon Crump (previously published by Poor News Network)
I awake every day, even up here, to watch, listen, and secure you. I don’t care what day you are due up here with me, Mom, for I’ve always heard you cry, before and after they took me. I’m never leaving you, as we are bonded for eternity.
Before I decided to chronicle the “Idriss Stelley Foundation” series, last year, Idriss’ spirit channeled through my soul and communicated with me to his mom, Mesha Monge-Irizarry through this poem (the poem continues throughout this story.) I called it: IDRISS’S ADDRESS. For everyone that reads this series conclusion chronicled by POOR, you all will see why.
On the morning of June 13th, 2001 at 7:45 am, Mesha worked literally 25 hours due to the shortage of staff. An hour later, she received a phone call that will forever haunt her:
“Mom, I need $2,000 or I am a dead man tonight!” This would also be the last time she would ever hear her son’s voice again. Mesha was stunned by these terrifying words, and very afraid. Her son seldom asked her for any money, given the fact that he was a marble union worker. Idriss wouldn’t go into further details over the phone, and promised her that he would explain everything when she got home from work.
“Me and Mama Dee left out of this theater (Sony Metreon Theater) about a half hour before Idriss was killed,” POOR Magazine/POOR News Network, Co-Founder “Tiny” Lisa Gray-Garcia would later tell me.
Ma, I heard and saw you cry internally, even today, I can see your very tears plague your heart. God called me home ten years ago, and I’ve hovered over you since.
I’m sure that his girlfriend, Summer Galbreath, will never forget those awful words by Idriss Stelley: “Summer, you know that I am going to die tonight!” With that, Idriss was in a somber mood for the rest of the day. While inside one of the movie theaters at the Sony Metreon Theater located at Mission and 4th Street. He and Summer went to watch a movie called “Swordfish,” starring John Travolta. In the movie, there was a scene where Travolta lights up a cigarette. Seconds later, Idriss did exactly the same. A security guard approached Idriss and instructed him to put out his cigarette.
In the “Darkened Theater” (which was titled by the San Francisco Chronicle during its “Use of Force” series that published its own “version” of Idriss’s death) Idriss Stelley stood up and faced the audience. “If you have families or loved ones, leave now. Something bad could happen!” Idriss exclaimed.
Almost immediately, the movie patrons stampeded out of the theater like a wild herd in heeding his words…all but one, a man of African descent, who was asleep in the theater, unaware of the commotion. Summer had gone to use the restroom and was also unaware of what was going on, which is what she asked Idriss after seeing that everyone had cleared out.
“Baby, go home, I don’t want you to get hurt.” Idriss said “Go home to your family.” Summer left, but did not go home and was outside with everyone that left the theater. At this point, Idriss is all alone in the theater, shy of the gentleman who was still asleep. He then dialed 911 on his cell phone.
“Mesha, there are cops everywhere!” Summer said frantically over the phone. “They say that he has a gun, but he ain’t got no gun! I told them not to hurt him!” The call dropped. Mesha called Summer back immediately. It was 11:09pm.
I got called from heaven on that deep dark day, 7 years, 5 and a half months today. Though my life was abruptly cut short, Ma, I heard you cry. Before and after the hail of gunfire tore my body, I heard you on the phone to attempt to save me, but didn’t even get to see me, as you heard me die.
The moment that Mesha Monge-Irizarry called Summer back, she heard the shots ring out in the background that killed her only child, Idriss Scott Stelley. A barrage total of 48 shots is what it took for numerous officers of three San Francisco Police Department precinct stations to calm down a young man who was clearly suffering from a total mental breakdown. Use of Deadly Force.
Those very shots from June 13th, 2001 at 11:09 pm still ring out to this very day in Mesha’s mind. “Why wasn’t I there to shield his body with mine?” she often asks herself.
The three SFPD precincts that “responded” to the 911 call by Idriss and Summer harshly evacuated everyone from the Sony Metreon Theater “with shotguns” according to witnesses, employees, movie patrons, and spectators to the chaotic scene. The precincts that responded were the Tenderloin Task Force, the Bayview and the Mission District Station.
During the evacuation, the black gentleman who was asleep in the theater was seen by a witness led out in handcuffs through a back entrance. “What the f!@#$ is wrong with y’all!” the man was heard yelling to the cops as he was being taken away. “He didn’t have a gun, but you all had weapons!” In fact, the only “weapon” that was discovered on Idriss was a Thumbelina-sized carving tool (hooked to a thin pager chain) that the officers would later claim he tried to cut one of them with.
Summer saw the man from the theatre an hour later as he awaited interrogation by one of the homicide investigators at the SF Hall of “Justice.” The man later “mysteriously disappeared.” The unidentified man was later regarded as an “unreliable source” due to alleged intoxication.
Mesha was hastily driven to San Francisco General Hospital by a friend, grasping onto an ounce of hope that Idriss was still alive. Upon her arrival, she saw two officers at the Emergency Room entrance.
Mesha approached a triage nurse to find out if Idriss had been admitted. Like so many mothers, she received the words that no mother ever wants to hear.
“Your son died at the scene,” said one of the police officers. “You need to come with us to the Homicide Division.” Mesha was so shaken up, in a state of shock, that she doesn’t even remember ever riding in the patrol car.
My demise remerged your very soul, giving velocity to your courage and commitment to save others. My departure from the clutches of the wickedness that’s plagued you and everyone, will never be in vain.
At 5:30am Mesha called Summer to give her the terrible news. “Baby, your man is dead.” Once the word “dead” registered in Summer’s ears, she started screaming at the top of her lungs. All along, while she was being interrogated, she kept asking the officers “How is E (Idriss’s nickname)? Tell me how is E?!” “Don’t worry, darling, he’s fine. He’s going to be just fine,” kept contending the investigators.
“It is internal policy that when there is a shootout, everyone must empty their gun” Holly Pera, from the SFPD Homicide Detail Division replied, when she was asked by Mesha three days after Idriss’s death, “Why so many bullets?” There was never any real “shootout” because of the blatant fact that Idriss didn’t carry a gun. Or is it possible that the officers emptied their firearms to mislead investigators as to which officer fired first, during the ballistics investigation?
After the officers killed Idriss, they allegedly tried to perform CPR on him for 45 minutes.
They then dragged his dead body through an emergency exit of the Sony Metreon into a dark alley away from public view and scrutiny. Idriss’ body was riddled with bullets that ranged from his skull, exploding his brain, his neck, chest, arms, abdomen, thighs, calves, etc. Idriss’s body was practically covered from head-to-toe with bullets holes and blood.
It was also reported that there were bullet holes in the walls by an exit door of the theater. Was Idriss actually trying to flee despite the hail of bullets that ultimately took his life? This is mind shattering, given the fact that Idriss’s entire body was now literally shattered to shreds, yet now there was an attempt from Idriss’s killers to “revive him?” By performing CPR? On a man whose brain matter is splattered on the theater seats? What was really taking place in that dark alley from alongside the “Darkened Theater” may always remain a mystery.
“Idriss Stelley’s case is at the root of the 40 hour mandatory mental health training,” said SF Public Defender, Jeff Adachi in 2002, a year after Idriss’s death. These sentiments by Adachi were somewhat ironic because Mesha, herself, conducted comprehensive, “de-escalating” police intervention training series at the SFPD Academy and for the SF Sheriff’s Department until 2000, while she was successively the program manager of La Casa de las Madres, Woman, Inc., SHANTI, and Hayward Emergency Shelters.
In the past, Mesha has repeatedly offered her technical assistance to prior SF Police Chiefs: Fred Lau, Earl Sanders, and Heather Fong. In addition, she offered the same to SF Sheriff’s Department. “All, but to no avail,” Mesha stated, disappointedly, but not the least bit surprised by their overall lack of response.
They may have taken my life, but my soul and spirit will continue to inhabit, comfort, and cloud you. I’ve sent you many loved ones, shielders, and protectors, for you are always right as rain.
In 2003, Mesha won an out of court settlement (after she sued the City of San Francisco over the unjustified use of deadly force against Idriss) for the sum of $500,000. After her lawyer, Andy Schwartz, collected 35% of the money, she entered a business partnership with the remaining $250,000 with Willie Ratcliff’s Liberty Builders, Bayview, Inc., while keeping $25,000 to open the Idriss Stelley Foundation and keep a (clients and services) rolling fund. “I did this in the hope to strengthen Black and Brown ownership in the SF Bayview District,” Mesha said during the interview.
A day after the SF “Fajitagate” scandal exploded in 2002 (which involved the indictment of 12 top brass officers), Mesha was issued an apology – at her mediation in front of a retired judge, pointing toward a possible settlement from Heather Fong, who had just been nominated Deputy Chief that very day, before being appointed to head the SFPD by SF Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004.
Fong’s words in front of the City Attorney: “On behalf of our department and the City of San Francisco, I apologize for what happened to Idriss. It was wrong, and we want to make sure such thing never happens again.” Mesha’s attorney was gasping, ecstatic…but she immediately knew that such a contention, occurring during a confidential mediation process was inconsequential in terms of the outcome of her case.
Ma, I heard, and please stop crying, for I’m no longer dying, anymore. You were reborn and revitalized to save others like me, tell people like me, and given a heart like jewel to forgive anyone, even the killers of me.
Mesha publicly forgave the police officers for their execution of Idriss, something most moms or fathers rarely, if ever, do. She decided to use the rest of the money to create the grassroots, nonprofit organization that would hold law enforcement accountable for unethical conduct during the course of their duties: the Idriss Stelley Foundation. “I could not entertain the thought of spending a penny of Idriss’s blood money on myself!” Mesha exclaimed.
You may have not got my justice the way it should’ve been served, on the other hand I placed it on your shoulder, and assured you I’m always there, never past tense.
In September of 2004, Mesha took the SFPD Citizen’s Academy Training 15-week course in order to get a better understanding of the organizational culture of the entire department. While Mesha was attending, she learned the fundamental basics that a police officer would need in order to “serve” and “protect” the public. She learned tackling techniques, applications of containment through pain-inflicting physical measures and weapons. Mesha–understandably–could not bear to participate in target practice. Just a couple of years ago, Mesha showed me a picture of herself, between Lieutenant Flores and Chief Heather Fong while holding her graduating certificate.
Don’t ever think for a second, Mama, that evil will prevail, for my supreme father has toured me through the gates of Heaven and Hell. Many get so discouraged, despite how hard they fight, but little do they know of the glory that is yet to come. That day is coming, they shall all see.
As I prepared to wrap up the interview, Mesha concluded with her final thoughts of hope and commitment to keeping the soul and legacy of Idriss Stelley alive to help others who’ve experienced her pain. “Two nights ago, I dreamt of a storm raging through my bedroom. Idriss was sitting on my bed while dead leaves accumulated around us on the bed sheets. Then without transition, we held each other, looking down the Sphinx River and seeing the bodies of our ancestors drifting down the dark waters. Some of them were rotting, others chipping bones, while others were mere transparent shadows. I felt that Idriss is calling me.”
Before I packed up my paper and pen, Mesha gently tapped my hand. “But it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. I will not rest until we make substantial strides against illegal racial biased policing and lethal force against our Sisters and Brothers. Let’s keep going safe and strong in serving and protecting each other.” As I hugged her goodnight, she quietly told me to “keep a stiff upper lip” and not to take any “wooden nickels.”
“In Pro Per Power!” she said, giving reference to my civil suit against the City of San Francisco over SFPD misconduct last year, when I represented myself with no one to help me. Though I was unsuccessful, I will never misrepresent myself in heeding those very powerful words because they forever echo in my heart.