'A Cop Shot My Son': An Austin Mother Reflects on Shared Loss
Protests have erupted in Charlotte and Tulsa following police shootings of black men there.
Here in Austin, the memory of a police shooting of David Joseph, an unarmed black teenager, in February still lingers. And for Ketty Sully, Joseph's mother, each of these police shootings means having to relive her own son's death over and over again.
On Feb. 8, Sully’s 17-year-old son, David Joseph, a black man, was killed by an Austin police officer. The officer – Geoffrey Freeman, who is also black – was fired. A grand jury decided he would not face any criminal charges. Freeman has appealed his firing.
At her North Austin home, Sully keeps the blinds drawn. It’s dark and cool, dinner is simmering on the stove, and the TV is tuned – I’m told, most of the day – to a celebrity news channel.
Originally from Haiti, Sully moved to the U.S. with her family in 1994. Above a beige couch in her living room hangs a portrait of the Obama family.
Sully begins to talk about the morning of Feb. 8, the day her son was killed.
“Monday morning, by 8 o’clock, [David] left the house with blue jeans, white t-shirt and a black Nike jacket on,” she said.
More than an hour later, neighbors make the first of several 9-1-1 calls concerning Joseph. All describe him acting oddly – chasing a neighbor, cursing to himself. Officer Freeman is sent to the area. By the time he gets there, Joseph is naked in the middle of the street, unarmed.
In the dashcam video released by APD, Joseph can be seen charging at Freeman’s car. Freeman yells for him to stop, before firing two shots. One hits Joseph in the leg, the other in the chest.
“Nothing can give me David’s life back. Nothing. I’m still going to be hurt, I’m still going to be in pain, I’m still going to think about David every single day.”
Their bodies are off-camera, but you can hear Freeman pleading with Joseph to keep breathing.
While the medical examiner found Xanax and marijuana in Joseph’s body, none of these would explain his behavior. Sully said she didn’t learn that her son might be dead until 5 p.m. that evening, when a neighbor came by her house.
“And I said, ‘What happened?’” she said. “She said, ‘Something bad happened. I don’t know if it’s David, but I feel something’s wrong.' And I said, ‘Please tell me what happened.’”
Not knowing what to do, Sully called 3-1-1.
“And I tell them, ‘A cop shot my son,’” she said. “So, I want to know if I can go see him.”
She was transferred to APD. Sully said the police asked for a photo to match to the body. Her older son e-mailed one from his phone.
While a grand jury decided not to bring any criminal charges against Freeman, Joseph’s mother has since filed a lawsuit against the officer. The outcome, she said, means little to her.
“Nothing can give me David’s life back,” Sully said. “Nothing. I’m still going to be hurt, I’m still going to be in pain, I’m still going to think about David every single day.”
And, in the moments when Sully can forget, the news of the day thrusts her back. KUT's conversation with Sully was back in July, not long after police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. More recently, police shootings in North Carolina and Oklahoma have reignited protests throughout the nation.
“And, when I saw those [news reports], I feel like it’s David,” said Sully. “I feel like it’s David because it’s the same thing.”
She said she left Haiti for the U.S. to give her children a better life.
“I think America is safe. There’s no way America can be like somewhere else. I feel like, why am I here? Why did I come here for safety and my son can be dead like that?”
Sully said she has not slept in her bedroom since David’s death. Instead, she chooses to sleep on the couch closest to the TV, the couch David used to sleep on.
“I sleep right here every day,” she said. The couch is a post she mans.
“I’m still here waiting on David. I feel like David is somewhere. He’s coming back," she said. "I’m waiting every single day for him to come knock on the door and say, 'Mom, I’m home.”’
Eventually, the meal on the stove demands Sully’s attention. For a few minutes there, she stops talking about Joseph, and Sully sounds alive. She jokes. She’s funny.
But, the conversation finds its way back to her son. The beef Sully cooks is part of a Haitian curry. Joseph never would have eaten it. He hated Haitian food, Sully said.
“He liked American everything,” she told me. This includes American music, sports, food. Sully always cooked a separate meal for him, something less Haitian, more American. It’s a task she doesn’t get to do any longer.