Public Comment

Remembering Jeremiah Chass

By Sheridith Maresh
Thursday April 16, 2009 - 06:43:00 PM

I am writing in response to Joseph Anderson’s April 2 commentary, “The Karmic Justice of Lovelle Mixon’s Act.” In the commentary, Anderson mentioned Jeremiah Chass. I am a close family friend of Jeremiah’s and his family’s and I wanted to take the time to clear up some misrepresented information. Although Jeremiah’s mother appreciated the objective of your article she was deeply affected by the misinformation. 

First, Jeremiah was her birth son, born to her and her first husband, who was a black man. He was adopted by her second husband after they were married. It is true that he was one of only a few African-American high school students, as Sonoma County’s population is only about 3 percent black. 

I would not describe the family as middle-class because that classifies them in a way that does not represent their lifestyle. They are a simple family that grow their own produce in their organic garden, while living a simple vegetarian and meditation lifestyle. They do not watch television. Jeremiah was not only loved by his community and fellow students, but was also a top honor student and a leader. He had a special interest in physics, and many considered him to be brilliant beyond his years on the subject. He was known for offering his selfless services by doing yardwork around the community, where he would rarely accept money for his back-breaking work. If people did insist on paying him, he never used the money for his own needs but would donate it to someone else who did need it. His dream was to go to Africa to offer his hard work and skills to a village in need. He had never ever experienced any kind of emotional disturbance in his life. We will never know what was truly going on with Jeremiah that morning as he never made it to the hospital for evaluation. We can say with certainty that he was confused but was calm when the officers arrived. There is much I could say here, but won’t. What I can say is any young boy who was greeted violently with pepper spray and was beaten horrifically would kick and fight back. He never had a chance to know what hit him, and then they just began shooting. We sadly know the outcome. The family had no idea what could happen, as they had never had any encounter with law enforcement or even had so much as a traffic ticket in their life. They did not call for law enforcement; they had called for medical aid. 

Jeremiah did not fit the picture that is often associated with young black males. The morning he was killed, the first articles that appeared in the Press Democrat, online and in print, stereotyped him. It wasn’t until his name was released and people came forward that a better portrayal was shown. But by then the damage had been done. 

Anderson’s commentary, and all its good intentions, brought us all back to that day when Jeremiah was wrongly portrayed. It may not seem like a big deal, but, to a mother who is trying her best to hold on to her son, and who he was, in the midst of this nightmare that took her son away in such a brutal way, everything is important. 

The headline, “Karmic Justice” is interesting because Jeremiah was a true spiritual seeker. He would get up at 5 a.m. before school to meditate for two hours. Instead of doing what average teens his age would be doing, he would be reading spiritual books and talking to anyone who would listen about God and devotion. I doubt Jeremiah had ever knowingly killed even a spider, as he believed in total non-violence in all areas of life. His death was karma. The plants and animals all have a life force. By eating a vegetarian diet, and doing selfless service, Jeremiah believed he was living the purest life he could. Even when a human eats vegetables, there is a karmic payoff. When a human takes the life of an animal for food, there is another level of the karmic payoff. This was the foundation of Jeremiah’s spiritual path. So when a human takes another human’s life, as Jeremiah’s life was taken, then that karmic payoff is beyond our understanding on this human plane. But there is certainly a payoff … even if it doesn’t happen within the justice system. 

Those officers did not know Jeremiah. The public never really knew Jeremiah. It is his mother’s wish for the public to have a better understanding of her son. I am not saying all these good things about him just because he is dead. I am saying these things because he was the most extraordinary young man I had ever known. I can’t help but wonder what he might have done in his life if at 16 he had already touched so many people. His death has to have a meaning, somehow, some way. 

When the officers locked the family in the house while their son lay dead in the driveway, they had already begun to treat the family as criminals. In the investigation photos by the Santa Rosa Police Department of Jeremiah’s bedroom, all that was in his room was a small futon on the floor with a white quilt, a desk with a journal of spiritual writings, his school books, a few photos of spiritual teachers on the wall, a vase of daffodils in full bloom next to a picture of his father. His dresser had only a few clothes, as he never wanted much and only wore the same pair of jeans and shirt each day. His closet was almost empty. His shoes were never worn in the house, so they were by the back door. What is important here is that his mother always wanted to take him shopping for new things, but he never wanted anything for himself. He would rather his family spent the money on his younger brother instead. 

Also on the wall was a painting he had done in art class. In the middle was a white figure in a sea of the colors red and orange. He told his mother it was a soul traveling in the higher planes of the spirit world. 

Jeremiah’s mother spoke repeatedly over the past few days about your article with both discontent over the misinformation concerning her family and on gladness at the truth you also spoke. She truly does appreciate the heartfelt passion you expressed in your article. It was sent around the country to her family and friends. She is my closest friend, and I wanted you to know that she was deeply affected by the misrepresentation. I felt you deserved to know more about the young man Jeremiah Chass. We celebrated his life this week, as it was his birthday on April 2. He would have been 19 years old. 


Sheridith Maresh is friend of the Chass family’s.