On April 4 at 5 PM, New York Police Department officers shot and killed Saheed Vassell, a 34 year-old Black man, at the corner of Utica Ave. and Montgomery St. in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Multiple witnesses confirm that the plainclothes undercover officers gave no warnings and issued no commands before firing 19 shots, eight into Saheed’s chest and two in his face. Eyewitness Jaccbot Hinds said, “They just hopped out of the car. It’s almost like they did a hit. They didn’t say please, they didn’t say put your hands up, nothing.”
That night, the community of Crown Heights came out in the streets to make sense of this tragedy and demand NYPD answer for its crime. The next day, April 5, some 1,500 community members and other protesters gathered at the corner where Saheed had spent many of his days, and where he was murdered, to mourn and to fight for justice for Saheed. They march in the streets to the 71st Precinct to demand NYPD release the names of the police officers who murdered Saheed and the recording of the 911 calls. The police are refusing to release the audio recording of the three 911 calls they claimed to have responded to.
The crowd and family marched, shouting the call and response: “Justice For” — “Saheed!” They counted aloud the numbers one to 19—the number of shots fired by the police.
At least three police snipers were seen posted on the roofs of nearby buildings, surveilling the crowd.
Media, cops, mayor defend cops, attack victim
The media, the police chief and the mayor were quick to come to the defense of the police by demonizing Saheed as a dangerous criminal, when the real threat to the community came from the police officers who discharged 19 bullets on a populated street.
The police claim that Saheed Vassell was brandishing a gun. No gun was found at the scene, only a metal pipe that was allegedly in Saheed’s hands. The media aired video footage supposedly showing him threatening people with a metal object. Saheed’s family, friends, and the community at large reject this narrative. The family questions that the undated images shown are even of Saheed.
‘Everyone knew Saheed. The police knew him’
At the April 5 rally, Saheed’s mother and family exposed these lies. His sister Claudine Vassell said “Everyone knew him. Everyone knew he was harmless. The cops in the community knew him.” He spent much of his time on the corner where he was killed, where he was available for odd jobs.
Saheed’s family said he was a loving father, brother and son. They emphasized that they could never have predicted that when he left his home that day he would never come back. No family expects to lose their loved one to police, Every 28 hours, a Black person is gunned down by police in the U.S.
Saheed’s brother Marcus Vassall, Saheed’s brother cried out to cheers, “For Saheed, something must give, something must give!”
The community knew Saheed had mental health issues. The neighborhood has also suffered years of financial gutting of social programs and services that could have helped Saheed. Instead, funds were used to hire more cops and provide cop cars with bulletproof windows.
Other families of police victims show solidarity
Other families whose loved ones had been killed by the police came to the April 5 rally in solidarity. This included Victor Smalls, brother of Delrawn Smalls and Hortensia Petersen, also known as “Aunt T,” aunt of Akai Gurley. Members of Shantel Davis’s family, and Kimani Gray’s family were also there. They are a part of a club that they never chose to join. They seek justice not only for their loved ones but for all families impacted by racist police brutality.
Proposal for community alternative to calling 911
Kerbie Joseph of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and one of the organizers of the action, made a proposal for setting up an alternative community system for any emergencies, instead of making 911 calls.
The April 5 protest was called by BAJI, NYC Shut it Down, Why Accountability, Brooklyn Movement Center, Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Audre Lorde Project, People’s Power Assembly, New Yorkers Against Bratton, CopWatch, and Workers World Party.
Last year, 1,147 people in the U.S. were murdered by cops. Only 12 of these murderers were indicted; one was convicted; none served time. Crown Heights and other oppressed communities, are sick and tired of being harassed and occupied by racist cops who had with no regard for the people who live there. The community is demanding the firing, indictment, and conviction of the police officers who killed Saheed.
Justice for Saheed Vassell and all victims of racist police terror!