2:40 pm Feb. 13, 2012
Nearly two weeks after the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in the Bronx, Al Sharpton and a lawyer for the victim's family called on all levels of government to investigate the shooting death.
“We are prepared to do what is necessary now to escalate this dialogue until the city has to deal with his death and justice for his family,” Sharpton said this morning, referring to the victim, Ramarley Graham.
Sharpton later added that the case could be a litmus test for mayoral candidates looking for his support and the support of African-American voters.
“If you don’t address these issues, stay out of our churches and our communities,” he said. “Talk to us about what affects us. This case will be the case where we can determine where this city is going.”
Opening the press conference, Sharpton and clergy members walked together to a podium set up in front of the Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson’s office, which was closed for Presidents’ Day. He criticized a “cone of silence” from police, prosecutors and the media and urged transparency into the investigation.
“It minimizes the value of our own lives,” Sharpton said. “It’s like we’re worthless. It’s like we’re a one-day story and we are not going to allow this to happen.”
The controversial shooting of Graham by police officer Richard Haste on Feb. 2 was followed by protests, driven by questions about the series of events that culminated in Haste chasing Graham into the bathroom of his family’s apartment and shooting him.
The police department is reviewing the incident and Johnson has already pledged to investigate the shooting, but has told media he wouldn’t rush to judgment.
Sharpton said he was following the lead of Royce Russell, the attorney for the Graham family, who asked for investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Bronx County D.A.
Russell, himself a former Bronx assistant district attorney, said he had faith Johnson’s office would investigate.
“I know that they’re going to do the right thing,” Russell said. “You know how I know? Because we’re not going to allow them to do something other.”
Graham’s grandmother and father were among those in the rally, but neither of them spoke.
Michael Walrond, a pastor at the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, said many families feel like they live in occupied territory.
“This may be the season when we begin a campaign against the bullying of the NYPD,” he said, calling an end to what he called “legally sanctioned homicides.”
He asked the city seek justice not just for Graham, “but so many young men and women who have not lost lives, but lost meaning in their lives because they see no value in who they are.”
Conrad Tillard, the reverend of Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ, said 800 officers came to his church last month as part of a police-appreciation summit. He said he respects the work of law enforcement, but said that members of the clergy have to be able to call attention to police transgressions.
“Every clergy person is not a good clergy person,” he said. “And when the system protects clergy persons that abuse young children than that is a system that needs to be broken. Well, we have with the police department in New York, a system that always seems to protect a police officer, especially when an African-American has been killed.”
The Brooklyn-based minister said there were a lot of positive changes around him.
“The Bronx looks great,” Tillard said. “[Bronx Borough President] Ruben Diaz Jr. must be doing a great job. Yankee Stadium looks great. But black people are still getting killed in the Bronx. We don’t have an adversarial relationship with the mayor as we did during the Giuliani era. We have a real good relationship with the mayor. But black people are still being killed in New York.”
A reporter asked Sharpton whether there was a particular reason to think Johnson (who is African-American) wasn’t investigating the shooting yet.
“There’s no particular reason to think he is,” Sharpton said. “So we don’t know. In the absence of not knowing, we must go to the next step.”
Afterward, the group walked together across 161st Street to a seating area in the back of the Sheridan Market deli. There, Sharpton talked about strategy, and of collecting donations for the costs of Graham’s funeral next Saturday. Before they filed back into the cold, he urged those around him to keep making noise.
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