NEW YORK -- The mother of a 16-year-old boy whose death amid a hail of police gunfire has sparked clashes in a Brooklyn neighborhood called Thursday for an investigation into the shooting, which has raised tensions in an area community leaders say is “under siege” by overzealous cops.
“Right now, today, I’m fighting for all black kids,” a tearful Carol Gray said as she insisted that her son, Kimani Gray, was not a gang member and would not have been carrying a loaded .38-caliber revolver with him last Saturday night. “He’s not the public’s angel, but he’s my angel,” she said, holding up a photograph of her hugging Kimani at his junior high school graduation two years ago.
Police say two plainclothes officers on patrol in the East Flatbush area of Brooklyn late Saturday spotted a group of males standing outside. One of them, later identified as Kimani, broke away from the group upon noticing the police. He “adjusted his waistband and continued to act in a suspicious manner,” officials said.
As the officers approached, they said Kimani turned and pointed a revolver at them. Both fired back, hitting the teenager seven times. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says there is no indication so far that guidelines were not followed.
The precinct where the shooting occurred is one of the higher-crime areas in the city. Last year, there were 15 homicides there, and so far this year there have been two. But some residents angry over the teen’s death said the shooting points to a heavy-handedness by officers who assume that young black men they see on the street are gang members or potential criminals.
Adding to their anger is the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy in high-crime areas, which allows officers to stop people they suspect of wrongdoing and search them. The police and Mayor Michael Bloomberg say the policy has removed thousands of guns from the streets and helped bring down crime. Critics of the practice say it amounts to racial profiling, because most of those stopped are black.
“These police patrol these neighborhoods like they’re paramilitary,” said Kenneth J. Montgomery, an attorney for the Gray family. “That ‘innocent till proven guilty’ -- that sounds great, but it’s not reality.”
Montgomery cited other cases of police shootings of people who turned out to be unarmed, and whose deaths led to investigations and sometimes prosecutions.
They included Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from the west African nation of Guinea who died in 1999 when four plainclothes officers opened fire on him. Diallo was unarmed; police said they saw him pull his wallet from a pocket and mistook it for a gun. Montgomery also mentioned Sean Bell, who was killed on his wedding day in 2006 when he was shot 50 times by police. Three officers were forced to resign and a fourth was fired after that shooting, which also led to a criminal trial and civil suit against the city.
On Wednesday night, dozens of people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges after a vigil for Kimani turned violent. Police said one officer was hit in the face with a flying object. On Monday night, another vigil ended with about three dozen protesters rampaging through a drugstore. Surveillance cameras captured the group knocking goods off shelves, pushing one customer to the floor and stealing his cellphone.
Gray and community leaders called for calm and an end to the violence, which one local lawmaker, City Councilman Charles Barron, said was symptomatic of residents’ anger over police behavior in the area.
“We’re talking about a powder keg out here. Any incident could trigger it,” he said.