Monday Reading List: #SaheedVassell

Last week, officers with the New York Police Department killed a neighbor of mine. His name was Saheed "Sy" Vassell. Here's The New York Times:

The police said on Friday it took 5 to 10 seconds from the moment officers pulled up to the corner of Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue to the moment they shot the man, Saheed Vassell. The department did not answer questions about how far the officers were from Mr. Vassell or what exactly they did in those intervening seconds ... The police did not release any video of the officers getting out of their car or firing. Officials said the only security camera that captured the officers was almost a block away and did not show the incident in much detail. They said they were not releasing it because the department and the state attorney general’s office were still investigating the shooting.
 April 4, 2018 - Police investigate themselves at the corner where they shot Saheed Vassell. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

April 4, 2018 - Police investigate themselves at the corner where they shot Saheed Vassell. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

In cases where the police are responsible for a murder, the city should be required to release video evidence, at least to community review panels, during the investigation. The police department has every incentive to suppress evidence that paints its officers in an unflattering light.

That's what the family of Vassell wants. The New York Post reports:

Medics rushed Vassell, a Jamaica native and father of a 16-year-old boy, to Kings County Hospital, where he died. [Saheed's father] Eric Vassell claimed that when he went to the hospital, officials said he couldn’t see his son’s body.“They said I couldn’t identify him, that he was already in the morgue. That’s all they said,” said Vassell ... Saheed Vassell’s devastated sister, Vern Mathurin, 21, said of her brother: “There’s more to him than his mental disability — he was kind and loving … he was a great father, always with his son. Just a good man, a good brother.” Mathurin also called for the release of the 911 calls that led to her brother’s shooting death.

You can help support the family's pursuit of justice, and their funeral expenses, through this fundraiser.

 April 5, 2018 - Hundreds rallied for a march, from Utica Ave to New York Ave on Empire Blvd, seeking justice for "Sy." Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

April 5, 2018 - Hundreds rallied for a march, from Utica Ave to New York Ave on Empire Blvd, seeking justice for "Sy." Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

As Doreen St. Félix of The New Yorker points out, the Crown Heights community is experiencing rapid gentrification, which is further complicated by a history of racial tension:

Parts of Crown Heights are gentrifying rapidly. (Madina wondered aloud to me if a person unfamiliar with the mores of the community had called the police.) Walking along the main drag of Eastern Parkway, the neighborhood appears to be a genial example of multiracial and multifaith fusion. But many of its interior blocks are highly segregated, and tensions between its West Indian residents, Orthodox Jewish residents, and the police—the same tensions that in 1991 brought on three days of riots, after a Hasidic driver ran over and killed a seven-year-old black child, Gavin Cato—persist. On Thursday, several residents mentioned the year 1991 to me, as if it had laid a curse on this grid.

It's hard to avoid the linkages between gentrification and hyper-aggressive policing:

Incidents like this can take a devastating toll on a community. At a vigil for Sy on Saturday night, his family shared their hope that, in the wake of tragedy, we might find a way to come together as a community to discuss the challenges presented by police violence, gentrification, and communicating across lines of racial and ethnic difference.

 April 5, 2018 - Neighbors look for answers at the NYPD precinct at New York Ave and Empire Blvd. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

April 5, 2018 - Neighbors look for answers at the NYPD precinct at New York Ave and Empire Blvd. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

If you are interested in being a part of these conversations, please reach out to me at juscohen at gmail dot com.

I am particularly interested in having serious conversations about the connections between police violence and gentrification with white people who are relatively new to the Crown Heights community.