7734: Are police in San Francisco public servants?
To be wickedly bad as children, we would scribble 7734 on a piece of paper, triumphantly turn that page upside down, and flash this little gem at our most terrible of mortal enemies, chanting in that fleeting moment that so-and-so should go there. Always, we would consider this cherished trick as our most clever of insults, for if you do not enclose the top point of a “4,” an upside down 7734 spells hELL. Two minutes later we could be hugging. It was an innocent time. I loved my childhood.
As an adult, I would occasionally share this little story in my classroom. I can no longer remember any particular impetus for telling it — who knows about this little trick or can remember now? Secondary teaching means six stand-up shows delivered daily, in my case for thirty-eight years! At any rate, afterward sharing that story, we would all howl like screech monkeys, enjoying this invitation to share similar childhood memories. I could have students writing enthusiastically in minutes. I loved teaching.
Much of what was once innocent, though, can fill me with horror of an odd significance now. In the 12 movie files that document the suicide baiting death of my only child in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, on February 16, 2010, Movie File 7734 is the one where Dylan Yount jumps to his death. Before my gentle son died, he saw the real 7734, the unexpected violence people can inflict on one another, even total strangers.
Since then, I have become hypersensitive to language. I hate platitudes, though not their bearers. When I hear a hearty “God saves His hardest battles for his strongest soldiers” and “we all get the same thing, a lifetime,” I silently scream.
Seriously, are there still people out there who think that children subjected to unspeakable human torture and then killed in the Nazis’ Kinder-Euthanasie got the “same thing?” Perhaps an hour inside a children’s hospital cancer wing might help those without imagination? A trip to Sub-Saharan Africa to understand “strongest soldier?” An afternoon as a fly on the wall inside a psychologist’s office?
Reading sentiments about how everything happens because it is God’s Plan can send a survivor of suicide like me almost over the edge, for when someone ardently writes, “God has blessed me with ____ (you fill in the blank),” I am usually blown away, reminded again to search for a suitable antonym for blessed.
What is the opposite of blessed anyhow? Cursed? Are we to believe that a just and loving God de-blesses some for a reason? That God disfavors some as His Plan? If I was ever marginal on how hurtful these bromides could be, the newest evangelical shocker almost leaves me speechless: “Trust God. He is in complete control. You may not like a situation, but He would not have you there unless you needed it.”
Now, intellectually, I certainly know that Dylan was not the first to die horribly as entertainment, and I will not be the first to die heartbroken. Even so, please do not tell me that God thought a suicide baiting was what we needed. God saw a suicide baiting all right, but He did not think we needed it.
The San Francisco Police Department thought we needed it. They quickly established a blame-the-victim bias against my disabled son. They demonstrated their approval of the crowd’s behavior in each critical second they did nothing to stop it. Even the vapid and neutered language of their official report cannot disguise the disturbing reality of the suicide baiting on Mardi Gras Tuesday, 2010.
After childishly remarking that he yelled in his “loud voice,” SFPD Officer Cezar Perez writes, “This subject appeared to want to return back but changed his mind.” Indeed, Dylan had hesitated twice in full view of everyone as if waiting for a verdict. What had changed his mind? Some weeks later when I would actually hear Officer Perez ridicule my son on tape, “Get back into your apartment, YOU FOOL!” I would link my son’s death to my early research that the chief characteristic of a potential jumper is the ambivalence between wanting to live and wanting to die, often determined by a single statement.
It would be later still when I could sadly call myself an expert in the field of suicide baiting research. I have learned that many other police departments often candidly share information about what happens at a suicide baiting. Most police departments sternly condemn the practice. Survivors of suicide baiting, themselves, report that insults hurled up to them only heightened their irrational desire to stop the agony.
Witnesses have described suicide baiting as everything from “a public execution” to an “evil exploitation of a victim’s mental instability.” At Fog City Journal, Robert B. Livingston says the bystanders “may as well have pulled a ‘trigger'”; raqcoon, a witness commenting at SF Appeal‘s “Man Dies at Cable Car Turnaround,” says Dylan was “sacrificed to please the masses’ thirst for bloodsport entertainment.”
Even though Officer Perez proudly touts several times that he was in “complete control,” he never mentions a single action taken by him or anyone else to stop what he calls, “the large numbers of pedestrians who were gawking and encouraging the white male on the edge to jump.” He does, though, unintentionally reveal his perception of what he thought the outcome would be.
When Officer Perez writes, “Pedestrians were in danger of getting hit by the man’s body if he decided to jump,” he reveals that Dylan Yount was already — even before he jumped — a “body” instead of a person in his mind. Every insensitive “thud,” “sprawled out,” and “dirty blond hair” remark in that hellish police report is meant to be my final dismissal. To me it is a verbal assault.
For someone who once loved all language study, I am terrorized now. Even though I have written nearly every day since Dylan’s death, I cannot exorcise what people have written — “ledge pussy,” “overdue abortion,” “attention whore,” “pavement pizza,” “the thud would make a good ringtone.”
All references to the lyrics of Van Halen’s “Jump,” Rammstein’s “Spring,” and Dudley Moore’s “Jump, You F**ker, Jump” devastate, and all nightmarish puns such as “no laughing splatter” and “maybe he fell funny” disproportionally hurt.
Every declaration such as “I have no remorse for faggots like that” or “I’d be one of those people encouraging him to jump, cell phone camera in hand,” stridently march through my mind like vicious martinets each day. Like Dylan, I certainly know what wickedness is. It is often difficult to remember that a human being, not a street ape, wrote, “Yeah, turned me on so much. I wish I could have punched the body.” Although I do not love Dylan any less, I have not loved living my life since his death.
At the same time, I do not blame God. I blame the public servants who are charged to bring order out of chaos, the SFPD. Would the SFPD laugh in our faces if we called them our public servants?
They are laughing now. The SFPD makes no pretense of offering accountability, even stooping at the highest levels of power to defend officers unfamiliar with the very laws they are supposed to be enforcing! The SFPD is secure in its role as the sole agent of a monopoly of service and protection providers inside that unfortunate 911 area. The SFPD is the imperial guardian of law there, able to wield large budgets to favor bloated salaries over training. They are ever-reliant on critical incident protocols written 20 years ago, content to leave the public groveling for information.
The SFPD’s long and protracted refusal even to condemn the practice of public suicide baiting is as pathological as their refusal to protect Dylan from the crowd hellbent on his death that day. We should not blame God for police misconduct, but if we do not stand up for Dylan, we should admit we do not stand up for much.