In December, Jamaica Hampton, 24, was shot multiple times by San Francisco police. Because charges against Hampton and the police use-of-force are so intertwined, newly elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin chose to at least temporarily withdraw charges against Hampton, drawing ire from the San Francisco Police Officers Association and inspiring reams of politicized newsprint. Disturbingly, most media outlets have spared little more than a sentence in passing to one of the most significant circumstances: Jamaica Hampton lost his leg.
For able-bodied people, amputation is difficult to comprehend. Some might vaguely empathize with the grief of losing a limb and the mobility limitations amputation presents. The reality is far more complex, both medically and psychologically. Recovery is long term, often taking years, and the impacts last a lifetime.
When I was seventeen, I was injured by shrapnel from a CO2 cartridge bomb in Dolores Park. The device had been thrown from a distance of several yards and landed in my vicinity. In the split-seconds before detonation, my friends and I scrambled away and I instinctively flung my hands in front of my face. The power of the blast tore apart the metal casing, sending white-hot shards flying at 4,000 feet per second, stripping off skin and tendon, and splintering bone.
I spent weeks at San Francisco General Hospital undergoing at least half a dozen procedures to set bones, graft tissue, and ultimately, amputate my index finger. Unlike how it appears in film and television, amputation doesn’t happen all at once. You might experience anything from days to weeks of dread awaiting the inevitable surgery. Then, it is all very sudden. Your hospital bed is wheeled to the operating room, anesthesiologists put you under, and you awake after hours of unconsciousness — tongue parched, throat raw from the breathing tube, starving, disoriented. For more hours after, nerve blocks leave what remains of your body numb, dead weight. Worse still is the bone-deep, primal feeling of wrongness — a gut drop like missing a stair in the dark.
The weeks following my amputation are a painkiller haze; I slipped in and out of consciousness, tethered to my bed by IVs, oxygen tubes, and the inability to stand. I withered to a severely low weight and struggled to distinguish dreams from reality. When finally I was discharged from the hospital, my saga was far from concluded; I was embarking upon several intensive years of recovery and a lifetime of associated symptoms.
From the ages of seventeen to twenty, I underwent some dozen out-patient surgeries, submitted to grueling and painful thrice weekly occupational therapy, and struggled to relearn everything from holding a pen, to feeding myself, to tying my shoes. Bathing presented a particularly complex problem, especially with bulky dressings and unsealed wounds. Sometimes, when I changed my dressings, I would look at my mangled hand and sob for hours.
New problems continued to emerge. My mobility limitations caused additional injuries because I was still clumsy with my new body. I broke out in painful hives and pooling fluids disfigured my face. The precise diagnosis for this condition was evasive, but its symptoms were familiar to the occupational therapist working with me — my immune system had become hyper-vigilant, as though suffering its own PTSD, resulting in multi-organ flare-ups from my cutaneous tissues to my gastro-intestinal tract.
For years following my injury, my nightly dreams were haunted by panic, gore, and shattering grief. During my waking hours, I felt apart from the people around me and Othered by my trauma. I still flinch at sudden noises, and fireworks will always remind me of the taste of dirt and blood. Even now, my fingers burn from temperature changes and my immune system flares to the point of debilitation.
I spent all of last year working to elect District Attorney Chesa Boudin specifically because of my experience, recognizing in him an uncommon insight into the nuances and gravity of victimization. We needed, I knew, a top prosecutor who would think complexly, carefully measure decisions, and seek justice and public good over personal aggrandizement or positive headlines.
When the POA and others suggest, in bald political maneuvering, that Jamaica Hampton has somehow evaded accountability or punishment, we should all be outraged. When they call upon none other than President Donald Trump to supercede the powers of our democratically elected officials, they are the ones who should be labeled “dangerous.”
Right now, Jamaica Hampton is in no appropriate state to mount a defense or stand trial. For years to come, he will be confined to the prison of a broken body. And for the rest of his life, he will wrestle with the trauma, indignities, and secondary symptoms typical of profound disability. I can think of few punishments more disproportionately severe than what Mr. Hampton has already been sentenced to.
Roisin Isner is a victims rights advocate, electoral organizer, and third generation San Franciscan.