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New York’s Finest? Police Shooting: A Five-Year Quest for Justice

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Lucy McKeon reports in the NY Review of Books:

In the national conversation about police violence, the name Ramarley Graham has been far less present than Mike Brown’s, Eric Garner’s, Freddie Gray’s, or Sandra Bland’s. This may be because Black Lives Matter was not yet a national movement when eighteen-year-old Graham was fatally shot in February 2012 by an NYPD officer. In fact, it was just weeks before Trayvon Martin’s death brought the issues of police brutality and institutionalized racism to widespread national attention.

A great deal has happened in the five years since—including Trump’s decision to replace the civil rights page on WhiteHouse.gov with one titled “Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community.” And so it was that a couple of hundred people turned out on Thursday evening in downtown Manhattan’s Foley Square to protest Graham’s killing five years ago to the day. Organized by the Justice Committee and its umbrella organization, Communities United for Police Reform, the action aimed to call attention to the difficulty of achieving police accountability in cases like Graham’s.

While the city of New York has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the victim’s family for a wrongful-death, attempts to indict Richard Haste, the NYPD officer who shot Graham, have ultimately been unsuccessful. But there is still one more resource: the NYPD has pursued its own investigation of Haste and its administrative trial against him came to an end last month. During the trial, witnesses and police experts showed that multiple police protocols had been ignored in the events leading up to the shooting. A final verdict is now pending and could result in Haste’s dismissal from the force.

On the day Graham was killed, he had been with friends near his home in the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx when he was identified by two NYPD narcotics officers on Haste’s team as suspicious. The officers told their supervising sergeant over the police radio that Graham was armed—though this was later shown to be false. Haste and his fellow officers rushed to follow Graham into the three-family home he entered on East 229th Street, where Graham and his family lived. Inside, Haste shot one round at Graham, who was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. No gun was found, but a small bag of marijuana was retrieved. Graham’s grandmother and six-year-old brother were also at home nearby when Graham was shot.

Four months after the shooting, Haste was indicted by a grand jury, but in 2013 a judge threw out the case on the technicality that the prosecutor had given improper instructions to the jurors. A second grand jury declined to indict the officer. Last year the department of justice decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue civil rights charges. And in late January, in his administrative trial, Haste was tried by NYPD for poor police tactics and poor judgment leading to the discharge of his firearm—the first disciplinary trial of an officer involved in an unarmed civilian’s death that Police Commissioner James O’Neill will decide.

During the five years since the shooting, Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, has been organizing marches, rallies, and memorials for justice for her son. On Thursday, she published an op-ed in The New York Times noting that, “Across the country, we’ve made little real progress on police reform even though there is more national attention to the problem.” She adds, “[Mayor Bill] de Blasio exploits the rhetoric of social justice but is unwilling to make the changes to achieve it. He has done nothing to meaningfully fix the systemic accountability problems at the Police Department.” Malcolm has been part of a movement uniting mothers of children killed by police across the country and in New York—including Sean Bell’s mother Valerie and Amadou Diallo’s mother Kadiatou. Hawa, the mother of Mohamed Bah, and Carol, mother of Kimani Gray, along with Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, spoke at Thursday night’s gathering.

“We’re in a club we never asked to be in,” Malcolm has said. Often called the Mothers of the Movement, some of these women—including Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland—participated in the Democratic Convention this past summer. Others appeared at the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C., when Janelle Monae called them onstage during her performance and led the crowd in a call and response to chant the names of the children these mothers had lost.

Malcolm and Graham’s father, Frank Graham, have worked tirelessly to have Haste criminally prosecuted. They’ve had the support of organizations like the Justice Committee and Make the Road New York, the NAACP legal defense fund, Moms Rising, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and others. But it is very rare that an officer is prosecuted, let alone convicted, for killing a civilian while on duty.

According to an analysis by The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University, fifty-four officers were charged for fatally shooting someone while on duty between 2005-2015, while thousands of fatal police shootings have occurred during that time (963 in 2016 alone). One reason is the 1989 Supreme Court’s legal standard for use of force, Graham v. Connor, which says that “use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight” and cautions against harshly judging police for decisions made in “tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving” situations.

Haste’s administrative trial is the final opportunity for punitive justice in his case. “My purpose is to make sure [Haste] is fired so that another mom or dad isn’t in my position,” Malcolm said at a press conference between hearings on January 17 outside 1 Police Plaza. “I’m not asking for anything special, just justice. Just what’s deserved.”

On February 2, 2012, Haste was assigned to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2017 at 11:40 am

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