My cousin, Stephen Guillermo, 26, is in his final final.
He will be put to rest this week after being shot to death May 3. After a night of typical Friday night college fun, he returned to his family home ― an older apartment building in San Francisco — but mistakenly to the identical apartment on the wrong floor.
The resident, Amisi Kachepa, 68, shot him with a handgun.
Why didn’t Kachepa look through the peephole and see a man half his size, disabled somewhat from drink, unarmed and posing no threat?
Maybe because he knew the gun laws would allow him to shoot — if Stephen were inside his apartment “home.”
A witness in the next apartment said there was no sound, nothing indicating a break-in.
Indeed, the knob lock was not broken. And the only way Stephen could have gotten in was if the deadbolt was unlocked. Stephen had to have been let in, invited in or lured in.
This was not a break-in or home invasion. Stephen thought he was in his home.
But because of the so-called Castle laws, the great grand-daddy of the now infamous Stand Your Ground laws present in some states, you can shoot first and ask questions later.
It’s a license to kill. And when you’re wrong, there are no consequences.
The family’s objective now is justice for Stephen.
While Kachepa turned himself in and held briefly, he was released last Tuesday when the San Francisco District attorney, despite urging from the family, refused to charge him with any crime.
The San Francisco Police Department was instructed to re-investigate, and did so. It’s back in the DA’s hands, and now that the suspect is released, the DA can take its time to consider why it should charge the suspect.
The family hopes this time DA George Gascon will do the right thing and that some charge is returned. How can it be fair that gun owners can be excused for shooting an innocent person?
(For more on the case, my Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund posting at http://www.aaldef.org/blog)
But there’s one more bit of justice that the family wants.
Stephen worked hard to be able to graduate from San Francisco State in June. The family has reached out to professors at the school to see if something can be done posthumously.
I know it’s not impossible.
Stephen valued his college degree like no one else.
To some who knew his circumstances, it may have seen like an impossible dream.
He immigrated to San Francisco at age 8. His father’s petition took nearly 20 years, during which time the family grew.
His life appeared to develop normally. But then his father died of cancer a few years ago and Stephen was pressed into being the family breadwinner.
Stephen had an inheritance: his father’s debt, much of it incurred by the family to make ends meet.
To pay off the debts, and to support his family, Stephen worked two jobs.
He also continued going to college, though economically. He went to a junior college and then to San Francisco State. No doubt he took on some student debt himself.
But now at 26, things seemed to be going his way. He studied international relations, and was looking to work in the foreign service.
Graduation was an important marker. For a kid from the Philippines, overcoming all he did, finishing college meant everything.
The family still hopes that the DA will grant him some a chance for justice by charging the man who shot Stephen.
But, in some ways, to have Stephen be given a degree from San Francisco State would be a very close second.
It would be an acknowledgment that his major effort for his time on earth ― pursuing a college education ― was not in vain.
Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok