Crown Heights Protests Police Killing of Saheed Vassell

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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.