“I don’t live in America and specifically because of this,” says his sister, Ebele Okobi, who serves as Facebook’s head of public policy in Africa
by Lee Houskeeper
San Francisco – Attorney John Burris and his law firm have been retained to represent the mother of Mr. Chinedu Okobi, the 36-year old African American man who was unarmed and repeatedly tasered and forcefully restrained by San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies until he fell unconscious and later died. He leaves behind a young daughter, grieving mother and a host of family, friends and colleagues.
On the afternoon of Oct. 3, 2018, Mr. Okobi was in downtown Millbrae walking along El Camino Real when he began to experience a mental breakdown, which reportedly caused him to walk out into oncoming traffic. Several sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene to investigate.
Instead of stabilizing Mr. Okobi and/or summoning medical help, eyewitnesses watched as the deputies escalated the situation by repeatedly tasing the unarmed Mr. Okobi with 50,000 volts from each taser discharge. Undoubtedly fearing for his life, he got off the ground and ran from the deputies.
He crossed the street and was surrounded by five deputies who took him to the ground. A passerby described seeing Mr. Okobi sitting on the ground with his chin to his chest appearing to be unconscious with foam around his mouth while being propped up by the knee of one of the deputies. Mr. Okobi did not have any outstanding warrants nor had he been suspected of committing any crimes.
Instead of stabilizing Mr. Okobi and/or summoning medical help, eyewitnesses watched as the deputies escalated the situation by repeatedly tasing the unarmed Mr. Okobi with 50,000 volts from each taser discharge.
In the wake of Mr. Okobi’s death, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into the incident to determine whether the deputies committed any crimes. Burris contacted the District Attorney’s Office to demand they provide the family with the fruits of their investigation, including, but not limited to, releasing all the patrol car, cell phone and surveillance videos of the incident and to inform the family how many times the deputies fired their tasers at Mr. Okobi.
“Mr. Okobi’s family deserve to know why they’re loved one is dead!” Burris states. “To date, there has been little effort to provide any answers to this grieving family as to how such a well-loved, accomplished unarmed man who needed medical help but was instead repeatedly tased ultimately met his death in the middle of the street.”
“Mr. Okobi’s family deserve to know why they’re loved one is dead!” Burris states.
Mr. Burris goes on to say: “The District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department has an affirmative duty to release any audio or videotapes concerning Mr. Okobi’s death within 45 days of the incident. However, I demand they lift the embargo earlier so that the large community of people who knew and loved him can know the true facts surrounding his death.”
Given Mr. Okobi is now the third person to die after being tasered by law enforcement in San Mateo County this year, Mr. Burris calls on “the district attorney and the Sheriff’s Department take a close and critical look at the circumstances of this tragic and completely avoidable death.”
Mr. Okobi’s sister, Mrs. Ebele Okobi, is a Facebook executive and posted this on her page: “Chinedu Valentine Okobi. He was a person. He was my little brother, he was a father, he was loved. Now he is gone, and our hearts are broken. His name is now one of too many names.”
Shaun King: Chinedu was my Morehouse brother
This is Ebele Okobi. She’s brilliant. Everybody who knows her thinks so. Often called “the Secretary of State” at Facebook, she is the head of public policy for Africa at the company. She previously served as the global head and senior legal director for human rights at Yahoo. She’s a Delta. She got her undergraduate degree in psychology at USC and her law degree at Columbia. She was a pioneering leader at Nike. In other words, she’s badass.
On Saturday, I spoke to her for the very first time and it was one of the most painful phone calls I’ve had in my entire life. Her wonderful little brother, Chinedu Valentine Okobi, a 36-year-old father, was just murdered by police in the Bay Area of California. Of course, he was unarmed. He was a sweet, gregarious soul.
Chinedu was my Morehouse brother. I was his student government president. He was friends with many men I know well.
When I got on the phone with his sister, Ebele, on Saturday, she said something to me that my own wife has said to me many, many times. She said, “Shaun, four years ago, after my husband and I had our first child, I moved out of the United States and moved my family to London, knowing that the United States had no real vested interest in protecting us.”
Ebele was right. The United States has no sincere interest in protecting and valuing the lives of Black people. And now, in the worst way imaginable, what she knew to be true has visited her own family.
Today I am going to tell the story of Chinedu Valentine Okobi – murdered in cold blood by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
Say his name: Chinedu Okobi. He should be alive right now. Black Lives Matter.
Ebele Okobi’s response
Ebele responded to this Facebook post by Shaun King with these words:
“This weekend, Shaun King gave me so much courage. Shaun spends his days absorbing the pain of far too many families across America, families brutalized by the deaths of loved ones. His timeline is a roll call of justice denied, and it is excruciating. I asked him, still ask him, how he finds the strength to continue to be the voice crying in the wilderness.
“Our family is so encouraged that he has raised his voice on behalf of Chinedu, and we join our voices on behalf of so many others. Too many others.
London Guardian story: ‘Privilege doesn’t protect you’: Facebook exec’s brother dead after police encounter
On Oct. 16, the London Guardian posted a story by Lois Beckett. Following are excerpts:
“The first news of his death came as a traffic update. El Camino Real, a busy road south of San Francisco, had been closed for hours on 3 October as law enforcement investigated what local news called a ‘deadly encounter.’
“A man was dead after being Tasered by sheriff’s deputies. He was described, in the early reports, only as a ‘36-year-old black man,’ who the sheriff’s department said in a statement had been ‘running in and out of traffic’ early that afternoon and had ‘assaulted’ a sheriff’s deputy who approached him. An investigation was taking place.
“Amaka Okobi, 72, saw the news and remembered thinking: ‘Oh God, I feel so bad for his mother.’
“That evening, Amaka, who lives in Pacifica, south of San Francisco, received a visit from the San Mateo coroner’s office. The man on the news was her son.
“Chinedu Valentine Okobi was a poet, a devoted father to his 12-year-old daughter, Christina, and a 2003 graduate of Morehouse, the historically black college in Atlanta.
“His death has caused agony and a quest for answers as to exactly how and why Chinedu died – answers that, they feel, are not being provided by the police. It has also renewed debate over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement, especially those with mental illness.
“In 2015, more than one in five cases of Americans killed by the police reportedly involved mental health issues, according to The Counted, the Guardian’s investigation into every police killing in the United States in 2015 and 2016. Black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers in 2016, according to data collected for the project.
“While the majority of America’s more than 1,000 police killings each year are shootings, dozens of Americans die each year after being tased by the police. In 2015, at least 50 Americans died after being tased by the police, and victims were disproportionately black.
“Chinedu had grown up in San Francisco as the youngest son of a Nigerian American family. He had spent the last decade managing serious mental illness, and in the past year, his older sister Ebele Okobi said, his family had grown worried as he seemed to grow more unstable, dropping in and out of contact with them.
“Chinedu had been unarmed during his encounter with San Mateo county sheriff’s deputies, the San Mateo district attorney, Steve Wagstaffe, who was investigating his death, told reporters. The public statement from the sheriff’s department suggested deputies had intervened to protect Chinedu from getting injured by traffic, Ebele said.
“So why is her brother dead?
“Ebele, 44, is a Columbia-trained lawyer who currently works as Facebook’s public policy director for Africa. Her role has included accompanying the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, on African visits, including a meeting with Nigeria’s president. But her high-profile job and elite connections had not given her the power to keep her younger brother safe.
“’That’s the crazy thing: privilege does not protect you in any way,’ she said. ‘I’ve been struck by the responses from people I know: “I don’t believe this happened to you.”
“As a black American woman, Ebele said she had lived in fear for years that she would lose someone she loved to police violence.
“After the birth of her twins, a son and daughter, she had decided to move her family to London. They moved in 2014. ‘I don’t have the mental or emotional fortitude to raise a son in America,’ she said she had decided. ‘I don’t have it.’ …
“In an interview on Monday, the day before a Tuesday morning memorial service for Chinedu in San Francisco, Ebele said that she and had her family had tried to piece together information about Chinedu’s last days, hours and minutes.
“What they had found so far were only fragments, she said, and some of the details were conflicting.
“’All we know is what we’re piecing together from news reports and from video that people are sending us,’ Ebele said. Right now, the family does not even know when and where Chinedu died.
“Local law enforcement officials have made no attempt to reach out and are not talking to them, Ebele said. …
“A witness video obtained by the family provides a ‘partial’ documentation of Chinedu’s encounter with the sheriff’s deputies, Burris said. ‘You can see on it that the officers were beating Chinedu, tasing him. We can see that he’s on the ground … he’s shouting ‘What have I done?’ and he finally breaks loose and he starts to run and they catch him,’ he said. But then the video breaks off, Burris said. …
“The San Mateo county district attorney’s office has named five deputies involved in the incident, all of whom are reportedly on paid leave during the investigation. …
“Ebele described her younger brother as someone who had been gregarious, personable, kind, and deeply devoted to his young daughter. He had been passionate about music and slam poetry, and was featured in a 2001 documentary about teenage slam poets, ‘Poetic License,’ she said.
“It was as he was preparing for life after college that Chinedu experienced the onset of serious mental illness, she said. He had been studying for graduate placement exams when he had what Ebele described as a psychotic break. The family brought Chinedu back to California, but struggled to get him a diagnosis and appropriate care. …
“Ebele wrote in a tribute to her brother: ‘We were so proud of him for creating a good and kind life.’” …
Read the full story at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/16/san-francisco-sheriff-taser-chinedu-okobi-death-police. Democracy Now reported this atrocity among its headlines on Oct. 18: “Questions Remain in Police Taser Death of Black Bay Area Man Chinedu Okobi.”
Note from managing editor Mary Ratcliff: The Okobis are an extraordinary family we once knew well. Ebele was our daughter Kenya’s best friend in high school here in Bayview Hunters Point, and when I was practicing law, I represented the family in a landlord-tenant case. They have our deepest condolences.