Hundreds of protesters gathered on the corner of Utica and Montgomery in Brooklyn to protest the police killing of Saheed Vassell, an unarmed black man who was reportedly diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“When I was walking through [the scene] yesterday, first thing I thought was like, ‘Lord, don’t let it be my son,” said Janie Watson, an African-American resident of Crown Heights, whose sons are 27 and 16. “Because I know my son walks this side to go to practice, so I was very happy when I go home and I found my son. But God, what happened to the parent whose son didn’t come home.”
On April 4 Vassell was shot and and killed by NYPD after they received three different 911 calls about a man with “a silver firearm” who was “pointing it at people on the street,” according to police reports. Later, police found that the 34-year-old was only holding a silver metal pipe.
“There’s a guy walking around the street,” one of the callers said, according to some of the transcripts of the 911 calls police released early Thursday. “He looks like he’s crazy but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun and he’s like popping it as if like if he’s pulling the trigger.”
From early yesterday morning til well past sundown, family, friends and community members collected where the shooting occurred to demonstrate. Unrest began in the wake of the second police-related killing of an unarmed black man in the U.S. in the past month. The first, on March 18, when Sacramento Police fatally shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark eight times in his grandmother’s backyard.
Vassell, a native of the Brooklyn community after emigrating from Jamaica at the age of six, was a familiar face to all in the neighborhood — so much so that residents who knew him, told local news outlets that they knew not to call the police when he was disoriented.
“This makes no sense. This seems…this is really like murder,” said Kobe, a friend of Vassell’s, who asked to only be identified by his first name. “And it could happen to any of us out here over really nothing because you got some cop who’s not from around here that’s trigger happy, feeling to shoot somebody.”
Before 5 p.m. on April 4, five NYPD officers arrived on the scene, to find a disoriented Vassell, which is when they began shooting after finding him in a “two-handed shooting stance.” They went on to shoot him a total of 10 times before rendering medical aid to him. Vessell was then transferred to Kings County Hospital, where he later died. He was known by family and the community to be diagnosed with mental illness, but not harmful.
Eric Vassell, the victim’s father, told The New York Times that his son had been hospitalized multiple times in recent years and told the New York Daily News that he refused to take medication for his condition.
NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told reporters on Wednesday night that three of the officers on the scene were not in uniform and that none of them were wearing body cameras.
Yesterday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the incident was “a tragedy by any measure” and shortly after, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he will be opening an investigation into the incident.
Ade Kanmbi teaches third grade at Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Wielding a sign that read “ARM ME WITH BOOKS NOT GUNS,” Kanmbi demonstrated against a system she feels is unfair to both teachers and students.
“I think it’s unconscionable some of the things we have to go through to get supplies,” she said. “The system doesn’t have money for books, for school supplies, but the system has money for guns?”
Kanmbi said she’s spent about $300 of her own money this year on supplies for her classroom, and she refuses to entertain the thought of carrying a gun at school. But first and foremost, she said, is making sure guns stay out of the wrong hands.
“It happened in Maryland a couple of days ago. It’s a matter of time before it happens here in D.C.” By Amy Zahn
One of hundreds of thousands of signs at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. By Amy Zahn
Andre Dixon is a probation officer from Broward County, Florida. “We’re here today to make changes in the gun laws,” she said. “We want to protect our children.” Dixon’s 13 year old son attends American Heritage School in Plantation, Florida, a 20 minute drive from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I got a phone call from my mom, and she was like, there’s been a terrible shooting at Stoneman Douglas,” she said. When she first heard news of a shooting, Dixon was worried it could be at her son’s school. She hopes the march will be a step in making sure what happened in Parkland won’t happen again — at her son’s school, or anywhere else.
“Hopefully today will make a difference and our government will make the changes that we need,” she said. By Amy Zahn
Dixon waved an American flag as she marched. By Amy Zahn
Alyssa Heard, 13, Felicia Foster, 11, and Valtavia Johnson, 15. The three came to the march from Ft. Lauderdale, Fl, with their church.
“We lost 17 lives in Florida, and we lost another three lives (sic) in Maryland, and altogether we shouldn’t be losing any lives over a situation like that,” Alyssa said. She said the Parkland shooting hit a little too close to home for her and her classmates.
“When you think about it, you think, ‘Oh, that could have been my school,’ or ‘It could have been me that died,’” she said. By Amy Zahn
A group of demonstrators in front of the National Archives at the March for Our Lives. By Amy Zahn
Two protest signs on the ground near the bushes next to the “What is Past is Prologue” statue in front of the National Archives. By Amy Zahn
A crowd of demonstrators listens to speakers at the March for Our Lives near the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th St. NW. By Amy Zahn
Almost a million people attended the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, flooding the streets of the capital. By Amy Zahn
A girl rises over a crowd of thousands at the March for Our Lives. By Amy Zahn
A demonstrator wearing a pussy hat, like the ones worn at the Women’s March, listens to speakers at the March for Our Lives near the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th St. NW. By Amy Zahn
A demonstrator clapping as he listens to speakers at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. By Amy Zahn
A child demonstrating at the March for Our Lives on Saturday near the National Archives. By Amy Zahn
A demonstrator listens to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt perform at the March for Our Lives on Saturday. By Amy Zahn
Demonstrators laid their signs at a fence across the street from the White House after the crowds began to dissipate. By Amy Zahn
Students rally at the March For Our Lives, Washington DC. Photo by Stella Levantesi
Thousands of students, teachers, parents, grandparents and supporters rallied in Washington DC yesterday with an unforgiving message for the lawmakers and the NRA: no more gun violence.
Led by the Parkland student survivors, the March for Our Lives had sister marches in 800 cities around the world.
Parkland high school senior, Emma Gonzalez, the face of this emerging movement, spoke for two minutes and stood in silence for four minutes. She said it took the Parkland shooter a total of six minutes and twenty seconds to kill 17 students.
“Fight for your life before it’s somebody else’s job,” she said as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Students have decided to take matters in their own hands, because up to now no one else has, they said.
“We’re here because no one else is going to speak for us if we don’t,” said 16-year-old Margaret Jeshow. “And if doesn’t work, then it’s going to have to happen again, until it does.”
Many mothers were there in support of their children.
“I’m here for my daughter’s future, because she’s eventually going to be in school,” said Donna Griffin, who came all the way from California. “This next generation, they’re the ones that can really make a difference. This generation that’s coming up is going to be powerful, very powerful.”
For others, change comes with more than rallying. Many of the speakers expressed their desire to be able to vote, even if they still haven’t reached 21 years of age.
“Teens like us should vote,” said Franciel Guillen, 18, who is an activist for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance in the Bronx, New York. “Having mature teens that know what they’re doing, them voting would change things.”
To the chant of “Vote them out,” the marchers were firm in their belief on the failure of the Trump administration and the NRA.
“Silence equals compliance,” said Adrian Gomez, 16. “It’s important that people exercise their right to vote. It’s our country and our future and we the people have the power to control that by voting.”
Like many teens at the march, Gomez and his friend Parker O’Donnell, were wearing a $1.05 price tag. This is the amount of money Marco Rubio took from the NRA, divided by every single student in Florida.
“That’s kind of terrifying, like I’m just a dollar and five cents to someone,” said O’Donnell. “Human life is worth more than any sum of money.”
Students said The March for Our Lives is just the start.
“This march is not the climax, it’s only the beginning,” said Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Parkland shooting. ”If you think today is good, just wait till tomorrow.”
A clear signal that a page has turned to a new generation was when Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, took the stage to share her dream.
“I have a dream that enough is enough,” said King as the crowd roared. “This should be a gun-free world. Period.”
Ricardo Aca, on the left in blue, before he speaks to the crowd outside the Federal Building in downtown New York City. Photo by Farnoush Amiri
Ricardo Aca swayed nervously behind a cluster of microphones before he disclosed to the group of protesters, counter-protesters and press that he was a DREAMer, a status that he could lose in 10 months if congressional action isn’t taken. Aca was speaking at a rally in downtown New York City today in support of a clean DREAM Act, as the third and ultimately final day of the government shutdown began.
Six years ago, Aca was an undocumented immigrant working as a busboy at the Trump SoHo Hotel. Today, he has legal status and an associates degree in commercial photography. He is working towards a bachelors in international affairs at Baruch College. But with less than a year of certainty left and with Congress using DACA recipients as a leverage between party lines, Aca has decided to use his voice as his defense.
“We are here today because we condemn Donald Trump and congressional Republican leaders who have forced a government shutdown by insisting on Trump’s racist border wall and other anti-immigration policies,” Aca said.
Approximately nine hours after the rally, President Trump signed a bill that would reopen the government, funding it for the next three weeks and simultaneously putting a delay on legislative action for the DREAMers. This uncertainty has created a limbo for most recipients of the program and also puts those who are close to their renewal period ending at risk for deportation, which is why many of them have laid low in recent months. But not Aca, who interns at Make the Road New York, a public advocacy group for immigrant communities.
“Because if I don’t fight for myself then nobody is going to do it for me. I need to fight not only for myself but also for my parents who have fought for me my entire life,” Aca said. “They deserve dignity and justice and so do those 11 million undocumented immigrants, and if I don’t do that nobody else is going to do it for me.”
Aca is one of the nearly 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was devised by the Obama administration in 2012 to allow for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to defer deportation.
Under the current administration, the program has been used as leverage against the Democrats in exchange for reinforcing stricter immigration laws, ultimately leading to the government shutting down on Jan. 19.
“This is where I consider my home. I pay taxes over here,” Aca said. “This is where I go to school. This is where my family and my friends are and so for congress not to be able to come up with a fix that is more permanent is very upsetting.”
The 27-year-old came to the U.S. from Puebla, Mexico, when he was 14 years old. Aca’s mom had pursued legal routes to come to the country but when those failed she found a job as a seamstress in a factory in New York and later arranged for Aca and his younger sister to cross the border through Arizona.
“(Congress) doesn’t care about people of color or immigrants who come to this country to work hard,” said LaShonda Lawson, a speaker at the rally who works as a security guard at the Statue of Liberty. “America should stand for freedom and inclusiveness. That is what I think about every day when I go to work. I see hundreds of people come to the Statue of Liberty because she is a symbol of freedom.”
Most DACA recipients file for their renewal every two years in pursuit of that freedom. And at Monday’s rally, Aca shared what he and his fellow DREAMers have been doing since President Trump rescinded the program in September 2017.
“Instead of enjoying my life I have been constantly in the streets having to have my voice be heard because I know I deserve to be here,” Aca said. “This (amendment in the Senate) is only a temporary fix on a larger issue.”
Currently, the state of New York contains the third largest population of DREAMers, which has created a need for public officials and advocates to hold rallies, hearings and conferences in light of the recent attacks to the program. One of those officials leading the fight for young people like Aca is Carlos Menchaca, who serves as the city’s Chair of the Committee on Immigration.
“We are in front of Federal Plaza in New York City where New Yorkers from every corner of this city, like Ricardo, are saying one thing clearly: we want a DREAM Act now,” Menchaca said.