Brooklyn Residents Struggle With Division Amidst Grief
New Yorkers in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Flatbush are claiming to be living under a veritable state of martial law as they enter their fifth day of vigils and protests, spurred by the rage incited after the shooting death of 16 year old Kimani Gray, at the hands of New York City police Saturday night.
Gray, whom officers maintain pointed a firearm at them, was gunned down outside of a friend’s home in East Flatbush. Gray was hit a total of seven times in the eleven shot barrage, which ended his life, and was found to have been carrying a .38 caliber revolver with four rounds loaded in the chamber. Though the officers’ accounts claim Gray had drawn the weapon on them, many activists and community leaders expressed doubt as to the honesty of their statements, causing heightened tensions between demonstrators and police.
Throughout the week, scores of activists and supporters have descended on the Brooklyn neighborhood, both to show their sympathies and support for the Gray family, as well as to march in protest of what is increasingly seen as brutal and unfair practices by the NYPD, such as the contentious “stop-and-frisk” policies, which many area activists regard as racist and unconstitutional. Tensions mounted Wednesday night, as protesters clashed with police, resulting in dozens of arrests. Community leaders from East Flatbush, who themselves are still coming to grips with Saturday night’s shooting, continue to call upon residents and demonstrators, many of whom have come from outside of the largely Caribbean working class neighborhood, to remain calm and civil throughout the grieving process.
In a statement to reporters, City Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, who was in attendance during Wednesday night’s vigil and demonstration, chided activists, many of whom were veteran organizers from the New York Occupy Wall Street movement, for inciting the showdowns with police:
“There are people, well intentioned though they may be, coming into the community and capitalizing on a situation and making it worse.”
Pleading for civility and calm Thursday, Williams, who had previously grabbed headlines after being shoved by NYPD officers while attending an Occupy Wall Street event in 2012, acknowledged the anger and legitimate emotion surrounding the incident and larger issues of police brutality, but urged demonstrators to channel their frustrations and rage in more appropriate manners. Citing that many of those in attendance were not actually from East Flatbush, his suggestions that outsiders had incited the clashes with police were met with harsh tones from other New York activists, such as 42 year old Bronx native Jose Lasalle.
Lasalle, the founder NY’s “End Stop and Frisk Freedom Fighters,” took issue with Williams’ accusations of outside agitators being the cause of the showdown, bringing the ongoing back and forth between the two, to an outright shouting match during Thursday’s press conference. Shouting that it was a “police brutality issue, not a community issue,” during Williams’ statements to reporters, the two continued vying for control of attending demonstrators, with half following Williams to an area church for a community discussion on the shooting and the other half following Lasalle to the 67th Police Precinct for another confrontation with police.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the issue, promising a “full and fair investigation” into the shooting, but stated that no “lawlessness” would be tolerated in the course of the city’s mourning and demonstrations. As the divisions between Williams and Lasalle, as well as those between the protesters and police continue to grow, many city officials and community leaders are paying close attention to events as they unfold.
(Featured image from photoblog.nbcnews.com)
(Photo of Councilman Williams from www.brooklynink.com)