Will there be justice for NYPD victim Ramarley Graham?
August 22, 2013
At around 3 pm on a Thursday afternoon in February 2012, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was leaving a Bronx bodega with his friends, when he was followed by members of the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit of the 47th Precinct of the New York Police Department. Footage from his home’s surveillance camera shows that Ramarley approached the door of his house, in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, unlocked it and walked inside. An officer then ran to the door, followed by another, gun drawn, and tried to kick it in without success. Multiple officers swarmed the house, entering through the back without a warrant and letting others in through the front.
Officers at the bodega radioed their suspicion that Ramarley was armed. Rather than moving with caution and calling for backup, NYPD officers broke through a series of doors, following Ramarley upstairs and into his bathroom. According to Officer Richard Haste, he yelled “Show me your hands!” before Ramarley reached for his belt. Shouting “Gun! Gun!” Haste then shot Ramarley in the chest, killing him. No weapon was found, only a small bag of marijuana which investigators hypothesized Ramarley had been attempting to flush down the toilet.
Ramarley Graham was one of at least twenty-one people killed by the NYPD in 2012, according to the Stolen Lives Project, a project of the October 22 Coalition, whose members mine news articles and reach out to the community seeking examples of deaths at the hands of police. In 2013 so far, twelve people have been fatally shot by NYPD, including 16-year-old Kimani Gray this past March. Stolen Lives estimates that since Amadou Diallo was killed in 1999, unarmed and fired upon forty-one times outside his apartment building, at least 238 people have been killed by NYPD—the majority black or Latino men or teenagers.
Setting Ramarley Graham’s case apart from most was the indictment of his shooter, then 31, who was charged with manslaughter, first and second degree. It was the first indictment of an on-duty NYPD officer for such a shooting since 2007, when three detectives were indicted, and later acquitted, for killing Sean Bell, also in the Bronx. A 23-year-old father, Bell had been out celebrating on the eve of his wedding when killed. Haste pleaded not guilty, just as the detectives in the Bell case did.
Since their son’s death, Ramarley’s parents, Constance Malcolm and Franclot (Frank) Graham, have been fighting tirelessly for answers and accountability. The raid on the family’s home was traumatic; Ramarley’s little brother Chinnor, now 7, was in the house, along with his grandmother, Gwendolyn Henry, who was taken directly to the NYPD’s 47th Precinct Station House and interrogated for seven hours. Beginning shortly after Ramarley’s funeral, which included the Reverand Al Sharpton as a speaker, Malcolm and Graham held eighteen weekly vigils outside the house where he died, one for each year of his life. They also created theorganization Ramarley’s Call, which meets weekly to strategize rallies and participation in other anti-police brutality events.
Members of the group were in the courtroom this past May, when Judge Steven L. Barrett threw out the indictment against Haste, calling the language used by the District Attorney to present the case to the grand jury “misleading.”
“With no great pleasure, I’m obliged in this case to dismiss the charges,” Judge Barrett told the court, 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.
But on August 7, a reconvened grand jury decided not to re-indict Officer Haste. Outraged by the news, the next day Malcolm and Graham held a rally outside DA Robert Johnson’s office, where they were joined by Councilmembers Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn and Andy King of the Bronx, as well as Comptroller John Liu, Tamika Mallory of the National Action Network (NAN), along with friends, family, and supporters. “I’m just lost right now,” said Graham tearfully. “I’ve got so much pain and anger inside of me.” The family has initiated a petition calling for the Department of Justice to open an investigation into the case.
Another protest two days later was held in front of the 47th Precinct Station House in the Bronx, and Ramarley’s parents plan to participate in the upcoming march on Washington with NAN, this coming Saturday, August 24.
“We have to ask ourselves this question,” Graham implored the crowd outside the DA’s office on August 8. “Had Ramarley been white, would this have happened? Would they have run into a white person’s home?” The question echoed the hypothetical offered by President Obama in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in July: Had Trayvon Martin been of age and armed, would he have been allowed to stand his ground?
The answer to these imagined scenarios clarifies reality: our system judges these murders not as injustices. As tragedies, maybe. Just as important, we need to ask ourselves how these murders even occurred—how they developed from the seed of subjective suspicion to a teenage life prematurely taken—and what this has to do with the way race operates in our criminal justice system.