A Year Ago the DOJ Agreed to Review the Police Killing of This Teenager—His Family Is Still Waiting

A march on the Justice Department is scheduled for tomorrow, a year after the DOJ agreed to review NYPD shooting of Ramarley Graham.

On August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Brown was shot at least six times, according to the autopsy. Protests erupted in Ferguson and within days, thousands held rallies and vigils in nationwide solidarity. While protests continued and the #Ferguson hashtag kept trending, America watched as the hyper-militarized police repression in Ferguson grew more violent. Brown was eighteen years old.

The tragedy of the story is in its familiarity. In February of 2012, eighteen-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by NYPD Officer Richard Haste in the bathroom of his family’s home in the Bronx. His grandmother and six-year-old brother were in the next room. Months later, a grand jury indicted Haste on two counts of manslaughter, the first indictment of an NYPD officer for killing a civilian since 2007. 

But in May of 2013, Judge Steven Barrett dismissed the indictment due to a technical error: Barrett deemed the language that had been used by the District Attorney to present the case to the grand jury “misleading,” adding that his ruling did not establish that Haste had acted with justification, and that the DA had the right to reconvene a grand jury. As yet there’s been no movement in this direction.

Ramarley Graham was one of at least twenty-one people killed by the NYPD in 2012, according to the Stolen Lives Project, a joint project of the Anthony Baez Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, and the October 22 Coalition. Members of the Project mine news articles and reach out to the community compile data regarding civilian deaths at the hands of police. In 2013, no less than sixteen people were killed by NYPD, and in 2014 thus far, at least seven people have been killed by NYPD—including Eric Garner, who died en route to the hospital after being put in a chokehold by NYPD in Staten Island this past July; Garner’s death was ruled a homicide August 1st and two officers held responsible face internal investigation.

Stolen Lives estimates that since Amadou Diallo was killed in 1999, unarmed and fired upon forty-one times outside his apartment building, at least 249 people have been killed by NYPD—the majority black or Latino men or teenagers. “To be black and male is to be always at war,” writes Ta-nehisi Coates in his memoir The Beautiful Struggle, “and no flight to the country can save us, because even there we are met by the assumption of violence, by the specter of who we might turn on next.” According to the Facebook group Killed By Police – which describes itself as having posted “corporate news reports of people killed by nonmilitary law enforcement officers, whether in the line of duty or not, and regardless of reason or method” since May 2013 – at least 685 people have been killed by U.S. police since January 1, 2014. The same Facebook group reports that at least 1,434 people have been killed since they began posting May 1, 2013.

For over two years, Constance Malcolm, Ramarley’s mother, has been tirelessly fighting for justice for her son. Heading the activist group Ramarley’s Call, Malcolm and Franclot Graham, Ramarley’s father, have been organizing with the support of the Justice Committee, a Latino/a-led grassroots organization working to combat police violence and systemic racism in New York City. A year after the Department of Justice indicated that it would review the case, it hasn’t demonstrated that it is undertaking a full investigation. Today, Malcolm releases a video calling on the Department of Justice to take action.

“I am tired of waiting for justice – the Department of Justice must uphold the civil rights of my son and convene a grand jury in his murder by NYPD officer Richard Haste,” said Malcolm in an August 8th release by the Justice Committee. “It cannot allow an officer of the law to violate that law and our rights by entering our home without cause and shooting my unarmed teenage son dead – the local criminal justice system has already failed us. The Obama administration and Attorney General Holder should stand up for fundamental civil rights that protect and value the lives of people of color.”  

ColorOfChange, a national civil rights organization, launched a nationwide petition demanding a thorough investigation and federal charges against NYPD officer Haste. And in April, the chairs and members of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus and the New York City Council Black, Latino & Asian Caucus, sent letters to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an official investigation by the Department of Justice into the death of Ramarley Graham.

The video was released days after the families of New Yorkers killed by the NYPD over the past two decades met with the NYPD Inspector General. A protest against police brutality organized by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) was announced for August 23rd.

Tomorrow, Wednesday August 20th, at 12pm, Ramarley’s Call and supporters will march from Foley Square to the Department of Justice’s office to deliver a petition demanding that the DOJ meet with the family members of Ramarley Graham and investigate Ramarley’s murder by reconvening a Grand Jury.

“Something bigger than Stand Your Ground, the drug war, mass incarceration or any other policy is haunting us,” writes Coates of Ferguson and the logical distrust of police by communities of color. “And as long we cower from it, the events of this week are as certain as math. The question is not ‘if,’ but ‘when.’”

To read more about Ramarley Graham and racialized police brutality, see here.

 
Lucy McKeon is a writer based in New York City; lucymckeon.com