Justice means holding the police accountable

On February 2, 18-year-old Ramarley Linden Graham was shot and killed by New York City police officer Richard Haste in the bathroom of the home where he lived in the Bronx.

Graham's grandmother, Gwendolyn Henry, and 6-year-old brother, Chinnor Campbell, watched in horror as officers broke down the door of their home, cornered Graham in the bathroom and shot him in the chest. Henry was then dragged off to the NYPD's 47th Precinct--where, after the shock and trauma of watching officers kill her beloved grandson, she was subjected to seven hours of interrogation.

Predictably, police claim the officers thought Graham had a gun, but admit now he was unarmed. Police also say they were in "hot pursuit" of Graham, but surveillance video disproves this, too--Graham can be seen walking at a leisurely pace, entering his home and closing the door behind him before Haste and his supervisor, Sgt. Scott Morris, force their way in.

More than three months have passed, and Ramarley Graham's family is still waiting for answers and demanding that police be held accountable for murdering their son. Ramarley's mother Constance Malcolm talked to Lichi D'Amelio about her struggle for justice.

Community members and activists march in the Bronx for justice for Ramarley Graham (Vanissa Chan)Community members and activists march in the Bronx for justice for Ramarley Graham (Vanissa Chan)

CAN YOU talk a little bit about Ramarley and who he was?

FIRST, I want to say Ramarley was a normal kid, a fun-loving child who was willing to help anybody, especially older people. That's how we grew up, respecting our elderly, and he always kept that in mind. If he was going across the street and an older lady was holding a bag, or if she couldn't get across the street, he'd help her across the street.

Ramarley was a person who loved music. He loved all types of music. Every time I tell people he listened to jazz, they say, "Jazz?" No kid at Ramarley's age listens to jazz, but that's just who he was--he listened to everything because he just loved music.

His friends, they love him. One of the nicknames they called him was Elmo, because his ears stick out. He seemed to like it, because when they'd call him that, he'd just smile. Ramarley was a normal kid, like any other kid, a fun kid. He loved to play with his brother. He wasn't a sports person--he didn't like the roughness of sports, so he wasn't into that type of thing. He was a music lover. That's who Ramarley was.

TELL US about what happened February 2 when Ramarley was killed by police.

FIRST OF all, I wasn't there. I got a call, and I came home and saw the whole block was blocked off with cops. I told them who I was, I gave them my ID, and they just told me to wait. They didn't tell me anything--they just said wait.

A couple of cops came back and forth, and the last one who came over told me to go to the precinct with one of the blue and white guys--with the cops who wear the blue and white. I didn't know what was going on, because if I knew that my son was dead, I wouldn't be leaving.

So I went to the precinct with them. They took me upstairs where they question people over there, and they told me to stay in the hallway on a bench. The cop who took me in went and introduced himself to another person behind the counter. While I was waiting there, another cop came up to me and said he was from the homicide unit. That's how I learned my son was dead. Nobody told me anything up to that point. A few seconds later, they brought me my mom, and my mom told me my son is dead.

So I think they were very disrespectful. They could have at least told me, instead of hearing the word "homicide" from a cop. What if I didn't know what homicide meant? I would just be sitting there, waiting for them to give me answers. I think it wasn't right how they treated us. The whole time we were at the precinct, we didn't matter. They didn't care. To me, it's like we were just another number--that's how they look at us.

They held my mother for seven hours, interrogating her after she just witnessed what happened to her grandson. They didn't have the decency to have some compassion toward her. From what I understand, when a cop gets shot or witnesses something, they take them to the hospital. But instead of taking her to the hospital, they took her to the precinct to question her. I didn't think that was right.

HOW HAS your life and your family's lives been transformed since this happened?

IT'S REALLY unbearable. Time goes by, and every day is different. There are days where I feel like I'm drained. I'm fighting, and I'm not seeing the results yet. It takes time, but it's just tiring, not knowing what's going to happen.

WHAT HAS the support from the community been like?

THE COMMUNITY has been backing us from day one. They tell us they're with us and they're going to continue backing us until this man [Richard Haste] is charged and convicted.

In our neighborhoods, these cops who work in our neighborhoods don't live in our neighborhoods. They come in, and they don't get to know us. When I was younger--I was 13 when I first came here from Jamaica--you would see cops come in to the neighborhood and interact with the kids at street fairs in the community.

Now you don't see that. All you see is cops throwing kids up against the wall. They're actually coming from school--they've got their book bags. What do you think they have in their book bags? They're books, they're coming from school! And the police are throwing them against the wall or laying them on the ground. You see people who, sometimes, when they see the cops, just place themselves against the wall, because they're used to that--because that's what they do to them. You see it all the time.

So the community is really upset because of how everything went down and how they've been treated all these years. They're tired. They're tired, and they want changes. Especially in that 47th Precinct--it's very corrupt in there.

They treat the community like animals. We are not animals, we are people. We pay them to protect us, not to abuse us, and oftentimes that's what happens. We're just sick and tired.

I SAW you at the National Action Network with Rev. Al Sharpton and the family of Tamon Robinson, who was struck and killed by a police car that was chasing him down to detain him. Have you been connecting more with other families of people who were victims of police violence?

THAT'S ONE of the things we're trying to do now, because we have a pre-Mother's Day vigil coming up on May 10, and we're trying to invite a lot of the mothers who lost their kids to police violence. We're inviting them to come out and speak--we want to show them that we didn't forget about them. They might not have gotten the justice they deserve, but we didn't forget about them.

We want them to come out and speak, because half of the time, this stuff happens, and nobody knows about it. Even with Ramarley's situation, some people still don't know about it. So we want to bring awareness about what's going on and about these people who lost their kids.

We also want to have a Father's Day vigil on June 14 for the same purpose--for the fathers who lost their kids. Because oftentimes, we forget about the fathers. We tend to act like fathers aren't there. Sometimes they are. We don't give them the credit, but they're there.

And we're doing our regular weekly vigils until July 19, because Ramarley was 18 when he died, and we're having 18 vigils to reflect on the life that he had on earth. We chose Thursday, because Ramarley was murdered on a Thursday. If people want to come out and support us, we'd really appreciate that.

WHAT WILL justice look like for you?

FOR ME, justice means getting an indictment--getting these cops charged and convicted. Richard Haste and whoever was on that team that violated my house. They had ample time to stop and think, especially since you had a supervisor there. He should have known better, but they let them go in anyway. And because of that my son is dead. I still don't have an answer to what happened.