AFRICANGLOBE – The family of unarmed teenager Ramarley Graham who was murdered by New York police three years ago declared Monday night that a $3.95m settlement will not stop their crusade for police reform, vowing “we are not going away” before an ardent crowd of supporters.
Family, friends and activists gathered in a church in the north Bronx on Monday, braving wet snow whipped down streets by strong winds, to remember Ramarley Graham, who was shot dead aged 18 in his bathroom on 2 February 2012.
At an event that was half a somber memorial for life cut short and half a fervent rally for a growing cause, Graham’s mother and father marshaled the community to protest racial bias and a seemingly untouchable police department.
“The settlement will never take away the pain that the city caused me,” said Constance Malcolm, Graham’s mother, about the payout the city of New York agreed to deliver on Friday. Seeing officers involved prosecuted and fired “would be a start” toward justice, she said.
Franclot Graham, the teen’s father, said “we would give everything we have but to have Ramarley here with us.”
“What’s justice for me? All the officers in that team be held accountable for their actions, for their lies, for their disregard of the law, for their disregard of human rights.”
Graham, who wore a shirt bearing his son’s image and the words “Where is justice?”, said he and others had urged the Justice Department to resume its investigation of Ramarley’s death, and called on NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton to fire the officers involved in the case.
He admitted he was not confident the powers that be would enact change, and instead made appealed directly to the mayor, commissioner and people of New York: “We don’t need these people working for us. They’re dangerous, and they should not be collecting taxpayers’ dollars.”
Malcolm and Graham, flanked by their lawyers and Bronx councilman Andy King, stressed that problems within the police were systemic and linked to training, culture and protocol.
“What has happened here is just a micro versus a macro of what is going on,” attorney Russell Royce said, saying that police abuses are “a constant” around the nation.
“God rest the two officers whose lives were taken by someone who was sick,” King said in reference to two officers killed in December, “but I don’t want anyone ever to get confused that we’ve gotten to this point because of all the injustices, all of the violations, all of the discrimination, all the prejudiced behavior by law enforcement toward communities of color across American history. That’s how we got here today.”
The councilman also said that only accountability could help rebuild trust, and told the Guardian that the city council is considering new “consent to search” and “right to know” legislation to reform civil rights laws.
Grand juries conflicted over charges for officers
The federal investigation into whether NYPD officers violated the family’s civil rights has stretched into its second year.
In February 2012, two police officers followed the 18-year-old into the bathroom of his small Bronx apartment, where one of the officers shot Graham dead in front of his grandmother and younger brother, who was six years old at the time.
The NYPD said at the time that the narcotics officers saw Graham allegedly buying marijuana. Officer Richard Haste and his partner followed Graham back to his apartment, forced their way in, and cornered him in the bathroom.
At that point Haste shot Graham once in the chest, later saying he believed he would be shot. Police found no weapons on Graham or in the apartment.
Police at first claimed that Graham ran from officers on the street, but surveillance cameras on the house showed the teen calmly unlock the front door, without any apparent concern about pursuers. The footage also shows Haste and Morris scrambling into the yard more than a minute later, guns drawn, and then struggling to kick in the door until a neighbor let them in.
A grand jury indicted Haste for manslaughter in June 2012, but almost a year later a judge tossed out the charges because of concerns how prosecutors had handled the case. A second grand jury declined to indict Haste, who at the time was the first NYPD officer to face criminal charges for a fatal shooting since 2006.
The main NYPD police union and Haste’s lawyer, Stuart London, praised the jury’s decision not to indict the officer, with London bragging to reporters at the time that he was glad his white client found support in the predominantly non-white neighborhood: “It’s gratifying to know a police officer can get a fair shot in a Bronx grand jury.”
“This was a tragic case,” New York City law department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci said in a statement on Friday. Paolucci said that after “consulting with key stakeholders such as the NYPD”, the department determined settlement was “in the best interest of the city”.
The settlement awards $450,000 to Hartley, $500,000 to Graham’s brother, Chinoor Campbell, and $40,000 to his mother. The remaining $2.95m will go to Graham’s estate.
‘They’ll live on in the heart’
Since their son’s death, Graham’s parents have become leaders of New York’s demonstrations against police unaccountability and racial bias, and have campaigned for public grand jury proceedings in cases of police brutality and a separation of city prosecutors from cases involving city police.
Their allies, family and friends came out in strength on Monday night, filling the pews of the cavernous church to remember Ramarley and take part in an intimate rally for their cause.
A rapper sang of how the people of the Bronx were united by poverty and inequality, singing how a “slavemaster walks in the room we call him mister”. A spoken word poet urged action, saying she was “tired of being tired and time is of the essence”.
A tiny girl named Chloe, about the same age as Ramarley’s younger brother and with no fear before the crowd, recited a poem of her own composition – “as long as there is memory they’ll live on in the heart”. She then shouted in an outsize voice: “No justice!” The crowd immediately yelled back “No peace!”, completing the refrain from the marches of months past.
Before the crowd, Graham transformed from a quiet, solemn man – often pausing to look at his son’s photo on the background of his phone – into a vociferous protest leader, crying out “We will not stop until every man is brought to justice!”
A few minutes earlier Malcolm nearly broke down as she recalled a song written for the families of victims, which she had never heard in its entirety until that night.
Last week the family and girlfriend of another unarmed victim, Akai Gurley, said they plan to file a lawsuit against the city. The city also recently agreed to pay $41m to the Central Park Five men who were wrongly convicted of raping a jogger in 1989.
By: Alan Yuhas