Note from the editors: A week after the shooting of Kimani Gray, new information has emerged about his killers, decorated officers who had nevertheless been served five civil rights lawsuits prior to shooting Kimani 7 seven times. According to the Village Voice, "the only publicly identified eyewitness in the killing of a Brooklyn teen by two New York City police officers is standing by her claim that the young man was empty-handed when he was gunned down, and now says one of the cops involved threatened her life. Tishana King, 39...said one officer stood "right over" Gray, continuing to shoot him while he was on the ground, and that neither cop identified himself as law enforcement when the incident began." Since Kimani's killing, East Flatbush residents and allies still gather each night, 7 p.m., at 55th St and Church Ave, and a march is scheduled for this Sunday, the 24th.
A small, dedicated group of mourners congregated in East Flatbush Saturday night, one week after Kimani Gray was killed by seven shots fired by two undercover NYPD officers. As bad weather kept numbers down, the police maintained its show of force.
The week following the shooting death of 16 year-old Flatbush resident Kimani Gray has thrown a spotlight on both the intensity and the range of challenges facing minority communities in New York City.
Incensed by what many in the community see as yet another arbitrary taking of a young promising life at the hands of the New York City Police Department, young kids from the neighborhood took to the streets to publicly express their anger. As protests spilled into the street, the media began to pay attention and the Gray family called for peace, the police ramped up its response with an increasing show of force. Tensions for now peaked on Wednesday with 46 arrests of mostly black females, many of them outspoken members of their community, one of them the sister of the shooting victim.
The response by the police not only included the placing of a massive display of forces on the ground, but included physical and online surveillance with the support of assets and equipment dispersed throughout the neighborhood by the Department of Homeland Security. Several surveillance cars followed protesters as they marched through the street, drones were said to be flying overhead, and on numerous strategic locations NYPD officers took positions on rooftops.
A leadership dispute of sorts broke out, as New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a representative of the area including eastern Flatbush in Brooklyn, started calling on "external forces" to stay away and blamed them for the violence that had broken out during some of the street protests and culminated in the arrests. Others welcomed the outside supporters, believing the anger displayed by their youth was justified, especially given the systemic approach of forcible policing tactics and the utter lack of opportunity for constructive activity in the neighborhood, both particularly impacting the young. An impassioned community meeting giving voice to the different viewpoints was held on Thursday and the process of looking for more concrete solutions has begun. Still, protests continued, albeit in an orderly fashion and without further arrests.
A broad variety of supporters from outside of the Flatbush area have indeed come into the community to join the protests, some from the Occupy movement, others from grassroots organizations in the Bronx, such as CopWatch and the Stolen Lives campaign, both focused on documenting and protesting the toll of NYPD tactics in minority neighborhoods. Some of that support has been welcomed while other parts have been widely debated over Facebook and at marches as a movement begins to form against the wider implications of police brutality on minority youth and their options for a promising future. The leaders that have begun to emerge are local members of the community, and their general thrust has been to demand justice for Kimani Gray and other victims peacefully but forcefully. For outside supporters the tightrope between lending support without imposing their own, not always related experiences, has been a difficult one to maneuver, as trust issues are worked out between groups of New York residents not accustomed to working together.
As details continue to emerge about the shooting incident that killed Kimani Gray and more is known about the individuals involved, it seems clear to many that the police's original story of a gang banger kid that got what it deserved by two heroic protectors of society is not going to hold muster with its intended audience. The two undercover officers, both decorated members of the 67th NYPD Precinct, have had several lawsuits brought against them leading to judgements of several hundred thousand dollars in penalties for civil rights infringements they allegedly committed. Also, increasing doubt is cast on the question whether Kimani Gray was actually armed or not at the time of the shooting. An autopsy has revealed, he was killed with seven bullets, three while he was standing up and four while he was laying on the ground.
Meanwhile, as numbers of the protesters present in the streets have decreased after arrests and cold weather, the underlying issues that brought the anger over his death loom as large as ever, the mourners proclaim ongoing resolve to protest, and the anger keeps on brewing. The police, well aware of that, has not relaxed its policing tactics, keeping a security perimeter in force around the local police precinct building and a group of officers on display on every street corner along the neighborhood main street Church Avenue.
Towards the end of Saturday night, one week after Kimani Gray was killed, after the crowds had gone home peacefully for a third night in a row, and officers in riot gear had more than doubly outnumbered protesters for a second night, police started to pack up some of the barricading they had erected surrounding the site of the nightly candle light vigils. The decision seemed to have come down hastily and not well prepared, as cops were seen fumbling with the barricade racks, riot helmets still on their heads. Protest organizers vow to continue their nightly marches, to highlight what they see as a broader issue than just the killing of one individual teenager. Whether the police will continue its visible show of force or dial back its policing will remain to be seen.
This story was originally published on Demotix.