A collective of community folks organized with the family of Asa Benjamin Sullivan at the center have recently launched a people’s investigation into the killing of Asa by San Francisco police in 2006. Asa Sullivan was killed when SFPD responded to a “well-being check” at his residence then tracked him into an attic and shot him 17 times.*
Police cannot be allowed to kill people and then claim that person was responsible for his own death and call it “suicide by cop.” The people’s investigation is part of an eight year struggle for justice waged by Asa’s family to refute the state’s story that blames Asa for his own death and to seek justice by holding the officers and the police department accountable for this murder.
At the trial in the fall of 2014, the jury refused to award damages, affirming the SFPD defense that Asa desired to die violently at the hands of the state. To successfully appeal the decision, Asa’s family, backed by the community and the ongoing support of their lawyer, Ben Nisenbaum, needs to raise funds for the trial transcripts that document the many fabrications, inconsistencies and forms of judicial bias that shaped the trial.
It is rare that killings by police make it to trial and it is dangerous when they do and the court condones state killings of civilians as suicides. The organizing work to pursue an appeal reveals the strategies that the state uses to cover up their crimes, tactics that criminalize the victim, the victim’s family and the community as a whole.
More to the point, the appeal provides an opportunity to expose patterns of law enforcement impunity that will support the struggles of many families across the Bay Area. The people’s investigation process also marks a commitment from the community to connect the struggles of many families across years and regions.
It is a collective statement that these killings and cases will not be forgotten when settlements are refused. Settlements never can compensate for what was taken, but in Asa’s case the settlement offer was so low it dishonored Asa and the family.
We are witnessing a vibrant proliferation of grassroots investigations across the Bay Area in response to militarized state violence. These spaces of direct action paired with our own community research into forms of “security” and “well-being” that continue to kill and displace us reflect a shared investment in community safety to organize ourselves autonomously around our own defense, care and justice – and to do this through assemblies.
It is rare that killings by police make it to trial and it is dangerous when they do and the court condones state killings of civilians as suicides.
This is the second people’s investigation in the Bay Area within the last year organized by families and communities to confront police killings of people in mental crisis. The other was centered in Berkeley and challenged the in-custody death of Kayla Xavier Moore at the hands of the Berkeley Police Department, with a final report released by Berkeley Copwatch in 2014.
Kayla Moore was a Black transgender woman living with schizophrenia in Berkeley at the time she was killed. Asa Sullivan was also Black, had struggled with depression and was the father of a 6-year-old child. Both Kayla and Asa were in their own places of residence on the evenings that police entered and killed them.
The investigation is supported by the family of Asa Sullivan, Idriss Stelley Foundation, Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy (CCRA), SF Mission Copwatch, Inter Council for Mothers of Murdered Children and others across the community.
Please go here to see more details about the case, as well as photos, drawings, a song and a video of Asa. The transcripts include many days of police testimony with valuable information about police policies and processes revealed during the trial.
The successful appeal of the case depends on these transcripts, and all of us engaged in confronting police violence can learn from these documents as well. We are grateful for any contributions and for those already received and appreciate efforts to circulate the link and Asa’s story as well.
As the people’s investigation process continues to unfold over the upcoming months, we invite everyone to join us and learn together and share in this struggle as we continue to organize direct action spaces and spaces of creative rebellion and investigation to remember, rebel and resist.
*While many of the reports list the official bullet count at 16, the family counted 17 bullets when the one that grazed Asa is included, and so we honor this number in our investigation. Asa was unarmed in the attic and surrounded by police with their guns drawn when he was killed.