Will San Francisco become the first city to uphold suicide baiting?
December 24, 2013
Dear Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr:
Neither my son nor I ever voted for you, Mayor Lee. By the time he would have become your constituent, he was dead. Similarly, Chief Suhr, by the time Mayor Lee picked you as SFPD chief of police out of three finalists, my gentle son was gone. I had already lived my last pain-free day of life in the time when Gavin Newsom was mayor and George Gascon, SFPD chief.
From Missouri, though, I have watched the San Francisco political network evolve since the Board of Supervisors moved you, Mayor Lee, from your city administrator position to serve out the remainder of Gavin Newsom’s mayoral term when he was appointed as California’s Lieutenant Governor. In his last hours in that position, Newsom had appointed Gascon as district attorney before you were selected, Chief Suhr, in April, 2011, over now-Deputy Chief Daniel Mahoney and an “unnamed outsider,” conveniently never identified.
Any reference to an outsider’s possibly becoming a power broker in San Francisco would seem about as likely, to me, as someone there having a sign on his desk like the one the thirty-third president from my son’s birthplace state once did that said, “The buck stops here.” The buck I mention hasn’t stopped since February 16, 2010.
Chief Suhr, in spite of your being demoted for conspiring to obstruct justice during the tenure of Gascon’s predecessor, ex-Chief Heather Fong (infamous for her annual $300K pension), Mayor Lee declared you would “bring the department into the 21st century,” a hopeful remark for improving vital SFPD training.
In modern times, when more Americans than ever are beginning to demand mental health parity and many begin to aggressively prod Congress to treat the diseases “above the neck the same as we do those below the neck,” as Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, sponsor of the Excellence in Mental Health Care Act, points out, your city is on the verge of becoming the first ever to uphold suicide baiting!
If you just looked up to see my byline, you should recognize my name. I am the mother of Dylan Yount who died in a suicide baiting in your city on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, 2010, the hellish prerequisite day for my becoming the only surviving member of Yount v City and County of San Francisco.
Still, I believe Dylan would have voted for you, Mayor Lee, in the November, 2011 election. He had, after all, voted for Gavin Newsom, and I recall how in his early San Francisco years, he had loved living on Bush Street just up from the Chinatown Gate, from dim sum dining and exotic alleyway shops, the dense and rich microcosmic Asian world of your city.
I fondly remember how he made us laugh with delight one night over dinner in San Diego when he announced with perfect comedic timing and a precise balance of gloomy mock-seriousness and absolute truth: “I miss my Asians.”
To prevent future suicide baiting and thus honor him, I have tried many times to communicate with the SFPD, yet for all my efforts, I have only received two begrudging replies, delivered on the same 2010 mid-July day. I consider the pair a good cop/bad cop set with identical author purposes.
Then-Commander John Loftus told me he was writing me because his chief had told him to (homework). The now-Deputy Chief Loftus politely agreed “we should be ashamed of the manner of Dylan’s death” and “hoped some good can come from this tragedy” (good cop). Finally, he thanked me for taking the time to bring “this issue” to the SFPD’s attention, as if I had just pointed out a cracked city manhole cover (good cop doubts).
Next, the then-Lieutenant Daniel Mahoney, whom you beat out for top astronomical salary, Chief Suhr, wrote to mention that the department sent its “extended sympathy,” referred to the suicide baiting as the “incident” (bad cop alert) and blew me away with this: “The Department is not able to respond to your questions regarding the specific actions that were taken that day. I do implore you to take caution in accepting as fact unsubstantiated writings and single frame photographs that are posted in that they may not reflect the true actions taken on that day by our members” (unbelievably bad cop).
This was the second-most shocking news I had ever received. We know what happened, but we won’t tell you? Oh, and by the way, don’t believe what you read or see, either? They were “not able?” I remember thinking this was some kind of sick, fiendishly surreal, hellishly crazy nana-nana-boo-boo-stick-your-head-in-doo-doo JOKE.
It was a dismissal. The second-harshest disenfranchisement I had ever had. If I ever wanted to know what those “true actions” were, what choice had the SFPD really given me? I responded by doing the second-hardest thing I had ever done — or will ever do now — since burying Dylan. I retained an attorney. Next, I secured 65 photo and 12 movie files from Mooncricket Films.
By August, I had watched my son die – many times. I have heard the grandstanding Officer Cezar Perez insolently scream, “Get back in back in your apartment, YOU FOOL!” as well as the depraved and surrealistically incongruent voice that screamed out during that hellscape movie frame in words one might use to encourage a hesitant child to take his first step — or a troubled man to take his last — “Come on! You can doooooo it!” (one O for every story he would fall).
For a time, I just kept coming back to the language — to a suicide baiting so heinous that even the SFPD could not write its name, euphemistically referring to suicide baiting as an “event” and “incident.” It sounded the same as the official report, and it was a relief to finally realize the SFPD has its own manipulative language czar, ever proactive to fend off lawsuits — or one hell of a house style sheet.
Gentlemen, we are not interested in a language war. We want 12 impartial people who think they might possibly be able to watch a sick man being goaded to death with 24 grinning police officers standing all around. We want to hear from YOU. We want to hear your defense. We want one of your city lawyers to look us in the eye and try to convince us it would be okay for Officer Perez to shout, “Quit having your heart attack, YOU FOOL!”
With every passing day of denial, your city and county lawyers actually empower the story that will not go away. Two weeks ago, for example, I found a great blog by Marquette University teacher Gerry Canavan who had constructed a list of extreme 2013 stories in his post, “Monday Morning Links.” Included was Albert Samaha’s beautifully written “Public Influence: The Immortalization of an Anonymous Death.” (http://www.sfweekly.com/2013-01-02/news/public-influence-immortalizing-an-anonymous-death/)
Now, I am never surprised to discover yet another reprint of the young journalist’s article since I have found it as far away as Italy: “Lo spettacolo di una morte anonima” in Internazionale magazine (May 24, 2013). Accompanying the reprint there was a brilliant illustration by Italian artist Gianni Pacinotii whose unusual point of view was from slightly above and behind Dylan’s back. His interpretation is startling — just how God would have seen the suicide baiting.
Pacinotti drew the people below the ledge in Hallidie Plaza as standing together in the shape of a human skull – just how Dylan would have seen the suicide baiting. The painting evokes Golgotha, or “place of the skull,” the evil site just outside Jerusalem’s wall, the infamous place of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Always, these writers and artists define Dylan’s story and work in concert to “speak” to one another. When Canavan replies to a commenter at his WordPress site saying, “It’s a terrifyingly dystopian hellscape out there,” he could just as easily been replying to Pacinotti in another dialogue.
Mayor Lee and Chief Suhr, since I no longer celebrate Christmas — “not able” to abide the story of a baby born for slaughter in this world — perhaps you do? Perhaps in this holiest of times for some, or merriest times of goodwill for others, you could stop passing the buck. It’s never too late for my son to get at least that measure of justice.