It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, so I figured I’d try to get some writing done on what’s been going on with me.
This blog had started to feel like a burden to me recently, and my writing felt forced and unnatural. I found myself just trying to get it done and over with rather than feeling the words come from my heart and soul. After a while of doing that, I finally came to the realization that I needed to take a break. I needed to step back and wait for true inspiration to come to me again.
I can’t just bullsh** my way through writing this blog. The true magic can only come through when I feel it in my soul. When the words spill right out of my heart. That’s the only way I can stay true to myself when it comes to this blog. So if that means I need to take a break from it all together, that’s just what I have to do.
Me writing this article doesn’t necessarily mean my break is done, but it does mean that I’ve had a moment of inspiration to write and I’m going with it.
This inspiration hasn’t come to me easily. It’s been born out of pure heartache.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in my home, just finishing up my dinner, when my best friend texted. She said she had some really bad news. Before I could text her back, she was already calling me. We don’t talk on the phone much so I knew this had to be a big deal. Her voice was shaking as she told me the news: One of our closest friends had been shot to death by a police officer. It had just happened the night before.
Immediately I was in tears. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest.
Confusion and grief coursed through my body as we talked. The conversation was short. We cried, we promised to call each other more often, and we said we loved each other before hanging up the phone.
I went to my boyfriend and collapsed into him, sobbing and shaking with adrenaline.
This wasn’t just anybody. This was one of my closest friends. This was somebody I loved, and still love dearly.
I couldn’t understand how this could have happened. He was so gentle and kind hearted. How could this happen to him?
His name was Soheil Antonio Mojarrad. We called him So. Some called him SoMo. The name Soheil is Persian, from his dad’s side of the family and it is the name for the brightest star in the southern sky. His middle name Antonio comes from his mother’s Mexican side of the family, and it means “precious”. Soheil was our Precious Star. The name fits him well.
He was loved by every single one of us who had the honor of calling him a friend.
He had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and seven years ago (to the day) before this happened he had suffered an irreversible traumatic brain injury. He struggled every single day with his mind. It tortured him. He would go in and out of lucidity, often becoming convinced of the stories his mind was telling him. I remember I used to have to put the child lock on in my backseat when I would pick him up because of the times he tried to jump out of my car while I drove. He had claimed that the gods were speaking to him and wanted him to jump out to prove to himself that he too was a god. None of that was his fault. He was mentally ill, and these things were commonplace for him.
Despite his suffering, he remained the most optimistic, uplifting person you could ever meet. He had such a big heart. His father describes him as having “an ocean of love”, and I couldn’t have put it any more perfectly than that. A week before he died, he planted a beautiful garden at his family’s home. He wanted to grow food to feed the homeless, and he had a vision of starting a nonprofit for that purpose.
He was always giving everything he had, with no thought of himself. If someone needed help, he was the first to help them even if it meant he would go without. After his death, we started to hear more and more stories from people about the selfless things he had done for them. One man was homeless and needed a place to sleep, and Soheil was living in a van at the time but right away asked the man to come stay in his van with him. A friend of mine said that he got a call from Soheil late one night, and he said he needed somewhere to stay because he was stranded. It turns out that someone on the bus with him had needed money so Soheil gave him the last of his money even though it meant he would be stranded and unable to get home. He didn’t care about himself. He only cared for the happiness and wellbeing of others. Since childhood he was doing things like that. Giving his all. Always.
He was endlessly gentle, endlessly kind. He couldn’t hurt a fly and wouldn’t even want to.
So when we heard the news that a police officer had shot him, we knew something was wrong with that scenario. We waited for more facts to emerge, holding our breath and drowning in our grief. We watched as articles emerged listing out all of his past arrests, making him out to be a criminal. We were outraged.
Every single one of those arrests happened because of his mental illness. Officers who arrested him even made sure to state that they believed he needed help, not to be prosecuted. Some of those charges had even been dropped in light of his mental health. For the media to use these things as a way to demonize him… that was just unacceptable.
So his friends and family took to social media to share the truth about how loving and kind he really was. We wrote into every news outlet we could to tell them about him. We knew his death couldn’t be justified. We knew this officer had abused his power. There was no way Soheil could have deserved a death like that.
The news began turning the narrative around. They were forced to pay attention to the positive stories of Soheil that were now flooding in. And as the narrative turned around, more facts about his death began to emerge.
The officer claimed that Soheil was wielding a knife. He claimed that he was charging forward at him with the knife, and that every time he moved forward, he fired at him until he fell to the ground. That was the officer’s official statement.
Then the family’s attorney released a statement of their own. As it turns out, Soheil was shot 8 times, from 20 feet away. The majority of those 8 shots entered in through the side and back of his body. This fact greatly conflicts with the officers claim that he was charging forward at him, and that he was shooting every time he moved forward.
According to the family, Soheil did own a knife, but it was a very small pocket knife. That officer was 20 feet away. If he was afraid of a small pocket knife from that far away, I’d say his training didn’t do him much good.
The kicker here is, we have no way of knowing what actually happened because that officer’s body cam was turned off. The body cam that our tax dollars paid for so we could have transparency in our police force and make sure the police aren’t taking advantage of their power.
So it’s our word against his. It’s the word of a police officer against a mentally ill man who had a “criminal” past because of his mental illness.
We’re expected to believe the police officer’s reason for shooting our friend to death when he has no witnesses and no evidence to back up his story. We’re expected to take his story as truth simply because he is a police officer.
I personally don’t have a vendetta against the police. I believe we need them. But I also believe that they’re humans, just like us. And there are good humans and bad humans, which means there are good police and bad police. And because of that fact, we most definitely need ways to hold the police accountable to their actions. We need complete transparency. We need them to have their body cams on so we can monitor them and make sure that they aren’t using their power to hurt our loved ones. We need them to be held to the same standards that we are: if they kill someone, they damn well better be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the actions they took were necessary. If they can’t prove that, they need to be subject to the exact same doubt that any of us would be subject to.
For all we know, Soheil could have been having one of his episodes and he was likely afraid and confused. He had a hard time handling any sort of intense energy. He would even get flustered if a dog was playing too hard. My friend had him over at her house recently, and her dog was really into his favorite toy. She said Soheil became flustered and started nervously telling the dog “It’s okay, you don’t need that toy to be happy”. The intensity of a dog playing too hard made him feel overwhelmed. So you can imagine the intensity of a police officer approaching you with his hand on the gun at his hip. Any one of us feels that rush of adrenaline and anxiety when a police officer speaks to us. For Soheil, that intensity had to be magnified a great deal. This could have easily sent him into a schizophrenic episode.
The officer should have been trained to recognize mental illness and to handle the situation calmly, using de escalation techniques, not immediate deadly force.
All we can do is guess at what happened, because our police system has failed us once again. It always broke my heart when I’d hear about injustices like this, but when this happened to someone I loved, someone as amazing as Soheil… it woke me right up. I’m wide awake, and I’m pissed. I’m filled with such an intense desire to seek justice for Soheil and for every person who has been mistreated by the police.
I’m not against the police. I’m against the system that has allowed for bad people to become our protectors. These people are not protecting us. They are killing us. They are beating us. And they’re getting away with it. They’re being protected by the same system that allowed them to hold the title of “protector”. This year there has already been 323 fatal shootings by police officers. That is only in 2019. And by the time you read this, there will probably have been more.
When I was a little girl, I never imagined that a police officer could hurt somebody. When I saw a police officer, I felt a feeling of reassurance and thought that if I was ever in trouble they would come and help me. That’s the feeling we should have when we see a police officer. That’s the feeling I want my future children to be able to have when they see one. But I want that feeling to be true. I want it to be true that we can rely on them to protect us. I want it to be true that we don’t have to fear them because they’re here to serve and protect. And I’m going to do whatever is in my power to make that a reality.
I’m going to do it for my friend Soheil. Because he deserved to leave this earth much later in life, and peacefully. Not to be murdered.
For the weeks following his death, I’ve been just taking a break from my life for a while. I’ve been taking the time to grieve and to let all of these feelings come to the surface. I’ve been painting every night, and listening to a playlist made up of all of Soheil’s favorite songs. I’ve been talking to him and inviting him to come visit me in my dreams. I’ve been helping to seek justice along with his friends and family. I live several states away from everybody now, but I’m finding ways to help from here.
My boyfriend drove me to North Carolina to be with everyone for a few days, and we attended Soheil’s celebration of life. A funeral would have been too low for someone as bright as him, so instead we celebrated him with music and art and laughter. We shared our favorite stories of him, and laughed until we cried. I even got up in front of everybody to share my favorite story. That’s not something I could ever normally do. Leave it to him to get me out of my comfort zone.
When night came, we each carried a small candle over to his beautiful little garden he had planted, and we sat there together in silence. His family sat there with his friends, everyone holding onto each other for dear life. As music played, a gentle breeze came through. A little cutout of a star was hanging on the fence in front of us, and the breeze somehow only touched the star and nothing else. Someone came forward to point it out to the rest of us. It was a little hello from our Precious Star. Every once in a while someone would speak from their heart, saying how much he loved us all and how beautiful he was.
We sat there for a long time, and we cried, all of us together. I felt the cries come up from my gut and out through my throat. Great guttural sobs, and I heard and felt the guttural sobbing of my friends around me. We were all heart broken. And at the same time we were so filled with love. His ocean of love had touched us all deeply.
It was the most transcendent thing I think I’ve ever experienced. Grieving together, in unison. After a while of this, someone pointed to a bright star in the sky that seemed to be hanging right over us, and said “There’s his star!” We all giggled happily, and his mother pulled out her phone to see if it really was the star he was named after. And it was. He really was up there, beaming down at us.
Ever since that night, I’ve done what I can to help from here, and that feeling of connection and love hasn’t left me. Every day I’m in communication with my friends and with his family. We’re all still sharing in our grief together, holding each other up.
All I can do is paint. I guess this is my way of self-soothing. Art therapy has always been a big help to me. After my dad died all I could do for months was paint and listen to music that made me think of him. So far I’m grieving my friend’s death in much the same way. This time grieving is a little more familiar to me. I’ve been here before, only now the terrain is a little different. I sort of know how to ride the waves of it, but they’re still able to knock the wind out of me. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the grief, and sometimes I find some driftwood to carry me for a little while.
For now I’m still going to be taking a break from my writing unless the inspiration to write hits me. I’m not letting myself work on the blog until I feel ready to do so. I need time to get back in touch with myself and to move through this grieving process.
I love you all, and thanks for letting me rant about my friend. I don’t know if this article will be helpful for my readers, I just know that I had to get it off my chest. So thanks for letting me do that.
If you would like to help the #justiceforsoheil cause, follow @justiceforsoheil on Instagram or @JusticeforSo on Facebook to keep up with everything we’re doing. Share his story on your social media. Get the word out. Neurodivergent people need our help, not to be shot to death.
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On
This song makes me think of him and his ocean of love: