This piece was originally published at SFGate and is republished on 8Asians.com with permission.
By Emil Guillermo
Getting his university degree was the most important goal in my cousin Stephen Guillermo’s short life. But on May 3, he earned a death certificate instead.
On that day, Guillermo, 26, was shot and killed when he got off the elevator on the wrong floor of his San Francisco apartment building and entered an apartment identical to his own but two floors below.
The shooter, resident Amisi Sudi Kachepa, 68, a retired security guard, was arrested on suspicion of murder. By the following Tuesday, the San Francisco district attorney had released the suspect, pending further investigation.
In a “shoot first, ask questions later” world, gun laws favor the mistaken shooter, not the mistaken victim.
California law is based on the “castle doctrine,” the idea that one’s home is one’s castle. Florida’s “stand your ground law” is an extension of this idea. The doctrine justifies use of deadly force on an intruder if one is in imminent danger. Self-defense? More like a license to kill.
Was Guillermo a threat? If inebriated, he was no worse than any typical college student after a Friday-night frat party. Guillermo was smallish, almost childlike. Alcohol would have made him even less imposing than he was.
This was no break-in. There was no structural damage to the door. The doorknob was broken, but a dead bolt at eye level showed no sign of damage and had to be opened from the inside.
Guillermo was likely let in – to be shot. The shooter was in control of the situation. Guillermo was unarmed, and half the size of his shooter.
Now he’s dead, and his killer is free.
The castle doctrine makes the case challenging, but the district attorney has said the presumption that the shooter was in danger is rebuttable.
Guillermo was laid to rest last week in his Lincecum jersey just days after the San Francisco Giants honored him on Filipino Heritage Night. The AT&T Park scoreboard lit up like a tombstone for him. It read: “Stephen Guillermo, 1987-2014, American Filipino, Giants fan, taken too soon.”
I could add: proud San Francisco State University graduate.
Guillermo was 19 when his father died of cancer. His inheritance was the family debt. He worked two jobs to support his family, act as a father to his younger siblings, and go to school.
The degree was supposed to help lift them all out of the small apartment they had lived in for 18 years since they emigrated from the Philippines. Guillermo wanted a diplomatic career as a ticket to see the world. Now he has a better vantage point.
The university will award him his degree posthumously in a special ceremony in June. It’s a reminder that his life’s efforts were not in vain.
The family hopes justice isn’t just academic. Now it’s time for Gascón to muster the political will to prosecute the case. It’s time for a San Francisco jury to decide what the consequences should be for shooters who make a deadly mistake.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emil Guillermo, is an award-winning journalist who was the first Asian American to regularly host a national radio show (NPR’s “All Things Considered,” 1989-1991). His “Amok” column was considered the most read column on Asian America when it ran for 14 years in the now defunct, Asian Week. His column is now on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog; and on his own site at http://www.amok.com. He is based in California. His book, “Amok: Essays from an Asian American Perspective,” won an American Book Award in 2000.