By: Tony Best
As Constance Malcolm approached the cashier at a local supermarket to pay for the groceries she had just selected, the tears began to flow uncontrollably.
The cashier asked: “is everything alright”?
Malcolm, a member of 1199 SEIU, replied: “You look just like my son.”
Four months after New York City Police Officer Richard Haste shot and killed 18 year old Ramarley Graham in the bathroom of the teenager’s home in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, the victim’s mother is reminded daily about her loss, a face on the street, the innocence of a youthful expression in a neighborhood park or a glance from a colleague at work.
“This has to stop. They can’t keep killing our kids,” said the hard-working Jamaican woman, a clear reference to NYPD cops. “Help me get justice for my son. This happened in my home where he was supposed to be safe. What is the message they are sending you can just come into people’s house and do whatever you wish. I cry a lot, everyday but when people are around I try not to. People see me and think I am strong but sometimes I am really not. I know we have to continue this fight. I can’t sit down and let them walk over this. It’s not supposed to happen, especially in your house where you are supposed to be safe.”
It was on a cold winter’s day in February when Graham went from a nearby store to his home where Haste and other officers broke down the door of the apartment, entered the premises and tried to confront the youth in the bathroom, according to the NYPD’s version of events. It was while he was in his home that Haste shot and killed the youth in the presence of his grandmother and a six year old brother.
Although the cops claim that they went to the three-story house because they thought Ramarley had a gun in his waistband, no weapon was ever found and it’s not clear that the Jamaican had broken any law.
“When a cop breaks into a home without a warrant, when we are not safe in our home where are we safe"? Malcolm asked.
Community leaders and critics of the NYPD blame the Stop & Frisk policy which has resulted in almost 600,000 young people of color being detained by NYPS, at least 90 per cent of them without cause, meaning they weren’t charged with an offense, such as possession of a weapon or illegal drugs.
“It stemmed from the Stop & frisk policy,” asserted the Rev. Al Sharpton, a national civil rights figure.
George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU, one of the largest labor organizations in New York State agreed with the Rev. Sharpton.
“It was definitely linked to stop and frisk, that’s how the pursuit of Ramarley began and unfortunately and tragically it ended in his death,” said Gresham.
“To me my son was murdered,” asserted Francois Graham, father of the dead youth. “I lost my son to people we pay to protect us.”
That may explain why both grieving parents are unhappy with the fact that only Haste was charged with a crime in connection with her son’s killing.
“We’re not happy with the charges,” the mother said after Haste appeared in a Bronx Court and pleaded not guilty to a manslaughter charge. “We’re very disappointed. It should have been a murder charge.”
Just as important, she thinks charges should have filed against other officers who were present when the killing occurred.
“There were many officers involved, but none of them were ever charged, including a supervisor who should have known better,” she complained.
What the victim’s father finds perplexing is the length of time, four months, for the Bronx District Attorney’s office to secure a grand jury and when it was handed down it was simply for manslaughter.
“I’d like to see justice done in the case, which means a conviction and prison time,” he pointed out.
Just as important, Graham said that to end such shootings, the NYPD should change its policy, specifically, the stop and frisk.
“You just don’t arrest people for the way they look, for the color of their skin,” he said after Haste’s first appearance in court and the cheering of police officers who went to the court to show their support for the cop.
Like a City tabloid, which criticized the behavior of the cops during the hearing, the grieving mother said the applause by the police officers left her dumbfounded.
“I was stunned. I was like really. That’s crazy,” she said. “Whether it was a police officer or not, someone’s life was taken at a young age. How can you glorify that? How can you laugh about that? These are the same people who are to uphold the law,” she said. “What message are you sending”?
Gersham, the 1199 President, who took to the street on Sunday, joining with the Rev. Sharpton, members of the NAACP led by Ben Jealous, the civil rights body’s chief executive Officer; Hazel Dukes, the New York State Chapter President; Roslyn Brock, Chairman of the National Board of Directors; New York State Senator Kevin Parker; and at least 30,000 protestors, said that the death of Ramarley and the grief it has caused were enough to force Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Raymond Kelley to change the stop and frisk.
“We want major reforms,” insisted Gresham at the corner of 78th Street and Madison Avenue after he walked dozens of blocks calling for a drastic change in policy.