Police shot and killed another unarmed African American Wednesday, this time in New York City.
New York Police Department (NYPD) received three 911 calls about Saheed Vassell, a mentally ill Crown Heights resident, for pointing what turned out to be a pipe at passersby on the corner of Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue.
Three plainclothes and two uniformed officers responded, resulting in four of them firing 10 bullets. Some witnesses said one officer fired almost immediately upon arriving on scene; one witness told the New York Times the men talked before police opened fire.
One witness was Jack Hinds. He told NBC 4:
“It’s almost like they did a hit. They didn’t say ‘freeze,’ they didn’t say ‘put your hands up,’ they didn’t say ‘stop for a minute.’ They just started shooting.”
NYPD did not release any video footage of the encounter, nor respond to questions about whether officers had initially exchanged words with Vassell before opening fire. A police spokesman told reporters officers were not wearing their body cameras.
Vassell was no stranger to the police. Department files classify him as emotionally disturbed. The officers who responded Wednesday, though, were not familiar with Vassell, being from mobile tactical units that patrol broader areas.
Neighborhood resident, 59-year-old John Fuller, said:
“Every cop in this neighborhood knows him.”
Thursday morning, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated his office was opening an investigation.
Vassell’s father, Eric, confirmed his son had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
About Vassell, Crown Heights residents told reporters:
“[He was] a caring father who begged for money in a nearby subway station and did odd jobs for shopkeepers. He loved to dance and was widely known to be mentally ill.”
One protester in the crowd that assembled at the intersection where Vassell was shot shouted:
“Hey, officer, stop murdering our people, how’s that sound?”
Vassell’s killing is just another in a spate of police shootings of unarmed African Americas.
Last month, a Harris County, Texas sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 34-year-old Danny Ray Thomas walking in the middle of a street with his pants down around his ankles. According to dash camera footage, it was clear Thomas did not have a weapon.
There was also the death of Stephon Clark, 22, in Sacramento, Calif. last month after police mistook a cell phone for a gun.
According to the website Mapping Police Violence, 25% of the 1,146 people police killed in 2017 were African American.
In 2015, 30% of black victims were unarmed compared to 21% who were white.
African Americans comprise only 13% of the American population.
Image credit: amny.com