In February of 2000, four N.Y.C. police officers were acquitted of all charges in the death of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea who was shot 41 times after police thought his wallet was somehow a gun. In January of 2004, 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury was shot and killed by an NYPD officer patrolling the rooftop near his building who said he fired his gun by mistake because he was “startled” when Stansbury opened the rooftop door.
A grand jury decided not to indict the officer, ruling the incident an accident.
In April 2012, 27-year-old Tamon Robinson was struck and killed by an NYPD cruiser near his home. While in a coma, Tamon was even handcuffed to his hospital bed for days until his death.
A year later, there is still no grand jury hearing on the case.
That same year, 23-year-old Shantel Davis was shot in the chest by a Brooklyn cop after some sort of alleged chase. She died, and no gun was ever found on her.
On Oct. 4, 2012, after unarmed 22-year-old National Guardsman Noel Polanco was pulled over on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens, an officer shot and killed him because “he felt threatened.”
In February of this year, a grand jury failed to indict the officer.
And who can forget the tragic case of 23-year-old Sean Bell, who died from a hail of 50 bullets from the NYPD the morning of his wedding in 2006.
Three detectives were later found not guilty on all charges in his death.
I was there that day when justice failed Bell’s family and his fiancé, Nicole Paultre Bell. I was there as she came to the realization that she would have to raise their two young daughters without their father and no one would be held accountable. I was there as the courts poured salt in to the wounds of his parents by failing them.
Those same emotions of disbelief, anger, sadness, frustration, and outright disrespect hit me again last Wednesday – this time in a Bronx courtroom.
Ramarley Graham, 18 years old, was shot to death by a police officer in his mother’s Bronx apartment in front of his elderly grandmother and 6-year-old brother in February of last year. In the courtroom, a Bronx judge threw out the indictment against the officer because of a minor technicality on the part of the assistant DA.
As soon as the judge said his first word, I knew it was going to be some nonsense because we’ve been there before.
Year after year, we hear the excuses, justifications, and sometimes outright lies that let these cops off the hook, failing to change the brutal culture of the NYPD. While I’m not saying it’s all cops, or that I’m anti-police, I’m anti-police brutality and against the tactics and sick mentality that cause devastating blows to families year after year.
And when police officers that kill unarmed kids walk away with just a slap on the wrist (or not even), why bother changing?
If they aren’t held accountable for their actions, then what’s going to stop the next Diallo, the next Bell, the next Graham, or any other unjustified shooting from happening? If we do not demand immediate change, then the NYPD and the state will continue treating young Black and Latino men and women like second-class citizens.
I was in that courtroom when Ramarley Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, screamed in anguish as her son’s killer walked away because of a “technicality,” “They killed my child! What more could you take from me?” she yelled as tears poured down her face. Watching her shout, cry, and almost lose her mind hurt; young Black men continuing to be disregarded hurts; our lives being devalued hurts; watching justice fail hurts.
There is something seriously wrong with a system that allows this to happen.
I only named a few cases here, but the list of all those killed and brutalized by police goes on and on and on, as does the list of cases where the officers are acquitted to continue their lives as if nothing happened.
New York City and New York State are just not capable of delivering justice when people of color are abused by the NYPD. Just last month, the NY Times did a cover story on the delays and disorder of Bronx courts entitled “Faltering Courts, Mired in Delays.” One line from the piece said it best, “The Bronx courts are failing.”
They sure failed the Graham family this week.
Constance Malcolm could be me; she could be you. This dismissal is one hurdle, but it ain’t over. We will go back for another indictment, and if we can’t get it done in the Bronx, then we will take it to the federal government. We will not stop until justice for Ramarley is served. People stood up for the first round, and now they must stand again for the second round.
Community outrage and activism led to the first indictment; a second indictment will only come if we’re just as engaged. Some may try to sweep things under the rug, but we will not — and cannot — allow it, because if people think that we do not value the lives of our kids, then why should they?
I’ve been with Ramarley Graham’s family since the tragedy took place, trying my best to console them, but nothing will give them more peace then finally getting some justice.
Let’s rise up!