NEW YORK — Over 1,000 people marched and rallied here in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, April 5 to protest the police killing the previous day of Saheed Vassell, an unarmed Black man. Chanting “Justice for Saheed,” demonstrators marched from the site of the killing to Brooklyn’s 71st Police Precinct.
Three of the four cops who gunned Vassell down were undercover special operations officers. They shot 10 times. The cops say he pointed an object at them they believed was a gun, even though they took less than 10 seconds to start shooting after getting out of their unmarked car. Vassell was actually holding a small metal pipe from a welding torch. Years before he had worked as a welder before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“The police that did this should be punished,” Shaneqa Jervis, a 28-year-old nurse, told the Militant. Jervis was one of several people at the protest who knew Vassell. He was well known in the community, doing odd jobs and helping people out on his good days. His family and friends have set up a memorial at the site of the killing.
“Everyone in the local area knew Saheed had problems, but he didn’t bother anyone,” Jervis said.
Vassell “took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers,” NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan alleged, in an attempt to justify the shooting.
“They didn’t say ‘freeze, hands up, drop your gun,’ none of that,” Jaccpot Hinds, Vassell’s neighbor, told WCBS-TV. “They didn’t say nothing. All they did was start shooting.”
“Law enforcement should not just come out and shoot and ask questions later,” Eric Vassell, the dead man’s father, told WABC-TV.
New York cops were quick to release video footage showing Vassell pointing the pipe in the faces and chests of people in the area on the day that they killed him, as they sought to paint Vassell as violent. The pro-cop New York Post and New York Daily News have joined the smear campaign, highlighting police reports that they were responding to 911 calls saying Vassell was “menacing passersby.” Mayor Bill de Blasio also defended the cop shooting.
Vassell’s closest friend, Ortanzso Bovell, had been shot in the back and killed by Brooklyn cops in 2008. The killing strongly affected Vassell. Cops said that shooting was “accidental.” Last year a jury concluded the cop killing was intentional and Bovell’s family was awarded $2.5 million.
Vassell’s death is the latest of many instances where New York cops have gunned down someone exhibiting mental problems. In 2016 they killed Deborah Danner, who suffered from schizophrenia, after neighbors called for help when she began behaving erratically. In 2012 cops shot and killed Mohamed Bah after his mother called 911 to ask for medical help to take him to the hospital.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an investigation into the killing. Cops rarely face trial for shooting deaths and are even less likely to be convicted. The laws are skewed to protect them.