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Seething anger in New York over police 'immunity' in shootings

By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Feb 20, 2012 - 2:38:45 PM

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NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) - Ramarley Graham, 19, was the latest victim of police violence in The Bronx. An undercover narcotics officer shot the youth at point-blank range in the bathroom of his home early this month in front of his grandmother and six-year-old brother. Police allegedly held the grandmother for seven hours after the shooting.

The officer involved in the shooting and his supervisor were stripped of their service revolvers, badges and placed on administrative duty. These acts haven’t dulled a seething anger found in neighborhood demonstrations and in other parts of the city. New York Police Dept. handling of the shooting, with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley changing the official version of the shooting several times, has only increased frustration and rage. The commissioner first told the press the young victim had a gun, but the story changed quickly because no gun was found.

Police now say a street narcotics unit near a convenience store radioed after seeing the butt of a gun in the youth’s waistband. The accused police officer allegedly kicked in the door without a warrant, in pursuit of the teenager. The commissioner admitted to the New York Daily News there had not been a struggle between Mr. Graham and the officer as earlier reported.

The police are sticking to the story that young Graham was attempting to flush marijuana down the toilet.

The community is demanding justice, and asking for a special prosecutor, saying they have lost faith in Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson’s willingness to indict police officers for murdering youth, said anti-police brutality activist Juanita Young.

“There is a pattern of killings and abuse against the people who have been holding back, but now are speaking out,” Ms. Young added.

Ms. Young told The Final Call she understands “firsthand” the anguish of having a child killed by a police officer’s bullet and then having the police department treat you with disdain. Her son Malcolm Ferguson, 23, died in March 2000, killed by a bullet fired at point blank range by an undercover narcotics officer in the stairwell of a building.

Police said there was a scuffle and the officer’s gun discharged but Ms. Young said her son was shot in the back of the head, launching her 12-year participation in the anti-police brutality movement.

“People want to get involved in a real movement to change the paradigm of police immunity,” she said. “One of the things people are talking about is a political movement, the need to take these issues to the ballot box. And I believe if there was an election tomorrow District Attorney Johnson would be voted out.”

Black and Latino residents in The Bronx are all too familiar with the issue of police immunity. In 1984, a Bronx grandmother in her 60s, Eleanor Bumpers, died after a police officer discharged a shotgun, sending a hail of bullets into her chest. The reason the officers were at her Housing Authority apartment was to allegedly collect $387 in back rent. Ms. Bumpers hearing people crashing through her front door, grabbed a knife, according to the police, and lunged toward the officers. NYPD said she was mentally ill.

No officers were punished for her death.

In February 1999, a young Muslim immigrant from Guinea, Amadou Diallo, lost his life in the vestibule of his Bronx building. He was killed in a hail of 41-shots because four White plainclothes officers believed Mr. Diallo’s wallet was a gun. After a trial, the officers were found not guilty.

Timur Person, 19, was killed on a Bronx street in 2006 by officers. Witnesses said he had his arms up, but four bullets were pumped into his body. No officers have been indicted in Mr. Person’s death.

“There’s a critical need for dialogue for more oversight and policy review of ‘Use of Force’ policies within the state of New York,” said Damon Jones, the New York representative for Blacks in Law Enforcement in America. In a press statement, Mr. Jones said his organization believes “there is no coincidence that these police shootings only happen to people of color, or in economically disadvantaged communities.”

Attorney Bonita Zelman agrees that a systemic pattern of racism exists and the veteran civil rights lawyer wants to see a more proactive stance in the communities affected. “More Blacks and Latinos are needed on the juries that try police officers,” she said. A December 2011 report by the New York State Office of Court Administration admitted Blacks and Latinos “are underrepresented around the state where they make up a sizable portion of the population.”

The Civilian Complaint Review Board also needs to be replaced as a mechanism for holding police officers accountable, Atty. Zelman added.

Because there is no accountability, 204 people have been killed by police in New York since the death of Amadou Diallo in 1999, said Ms. Young.

“Juanita is correct about the number, and there may be more but police departments are not truly forthcoming with that data,” commented Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party and a co-founder of the Oct. 22 Coalition Against Police Brutality and the Criminalization of a Generation, which compiles and publishes numbers for police shooting data nationally.

Mr. Dix felt the same spirit Ms. Young felt among young people attending recent demonstrations. “Youth are using language like ‘the NYPD is killing us,’ and they are contextualizing this with genocide,” Mr. Dix said. “I am telling the people that the police are out in front protecting and doing the bidding of the capitalist system that targets Blacks and Latinos for extinction.”

“I say that the people who are out in the street looking for a solution, need to get behind the RCP, and make real changes by getting rid of this system in totality,” Mr. Dix told The Final Call.

Student Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad of Harlem’s Muhammad Mosque No. 7 told The Final Call he has been focusing on the value of the Millions More Movement in countering the cycle of police violence. The purpose of the Millions More Movement is to unite, organize the Black community and develop a comprehensive plan to solve problems. We will follow this case to pursue justice, said Student Minister Muhammad.

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