The NYPD kills again

June 21, 2012

Gina Sartori reports on the latest New York police murder of an unarmed victim.

TENSIONS ARE running high in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn after NYPD narcotics detective Phillip Atkins shot and killed an unarmed woman, 23-year-old Shantel Davis, on June 14.

Atkins and his partner say they spotted Davis and followed her after she allegedly drove a stolen car erratically through red lights. Davis crashed her vehicle into a parked mini-van.

According to witnesses, Atkins arrived at the scene and attempted to drag Davis out of the passenger side of the vehicle with his gun drawn. Trapped in the car by an airbag and fearing for her life, Davis cried out, "Don't shoot me! Please don't shoot me!" Seconds later, Atkins fired his gun into her chest at point-blank range. The officers then pulled her out of the car--and attempted to handcuff her as she lay in a pool of her own blood in the middle of the intersection.

As shocked onlookers surrounded the scene, they began shouting, "Murderer! Murderer!" Atkins and his partner proceeded to collect video surveillance tapes and cameras from all of the businesses surrounding the intersection.

Shantel Davis, shot by police in an intersection in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn
Shantel Davis, shot by police in an intersection in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn

Garth Thomas Messiah, an eyewitness to the incident, described what he saw:

Two police officers approached a young 23-year-old woman, and murdered and slaughtered our sister in cold blood. And the cover-up is that it's an accident. It wasn't an accident. They were trailing her and following her. They got dirt on this woman. They cornered her right there, and the car crashed into the post. The airbags were deployed. There's no way that she could run or get away. There were no weapons in the car--no gun, no nothing.

IN THE days after the killing, the mainstream media slandered Shantel, implying that her criminal record was justification for her killing. Davis was due in court the next day on charges of attempted murder and kidnapping. But one member of the community said what many have repeated in the days since: "People around here don't really care to know her criminal history because of what they saw. We saw her being murdered here."

There are also questions about the allegation that Davis was driving a stolen car--other accounts say the vehicle was borrowed from someone Shantel knew. In fact, the car Shantel used to own was recently seized by the NYPD and put up for sale on the department's sales lot. According to the Wall Street Journal, hours before Shantel was killed, the Wall Street Journal reported, Shantel was online looking up a GED class to enroll in. Her friend explained, "She was trying to change."

In contrast to the smear campaign about Shantel Davis, the media failed initially to report that the officer, Phillip Atkins, has a reputation for aggressive violent behavior in the East Flatbush area of Brooklyn. When word spread about Shantel's death, everyone seemed to know who Atkins was--since he was known for terrorizing the same streets Shantel died on.

Atkins, who is recently returning from an official suspension, has his own record of "priors." He has had six federal civil rights lawsuits filed against him and numerous complaints of misconduct registered with the Civilian Review Board. In his 12 years on the force, the majority of charges against him were for illegal arrests, using excessive force and falsification of evidence. He has cost the city $224,000 so far to settle just four of the cases against him. Among the lawsuits against Atkins:

In 2003, Vincent Burgesses filed suit against Atkins after Atkins struck Burgesses with his walkie-talkie and arrested him without cause. Two years later, Burgesses was awarded $50,000 in damages from the city.

In 2007, Atkins illegally arrested and charged 39-year-old Margaret Ferguson with marijuana possession. Ferguson lost her job--although the charges were eventually dropped, the damage had already been done.

In 2008, a local business owner was awarded $15,000 after suing Atkins for illegally searching his car and business.

In 2009, Atkins was sued for strip-searching a woman he had arrested for marijuana possession.

In July 2010, Atkins arrested a stay-at-home father for doing nothing more then riding his bicycle. After being handcuffed tightly enough to cause severe bruising, the man, too, was strip-searched, held for 24 hours, and denied food and water. The city settled the suit for $20,000.

As Chevon Messiah, an East Flatbush community member and witness to the crime, said:

We call him Bad boy Atkins. He harasses people around here. His stop-and-frisk is not your typical stop-and-frisk. His stop-and-frisk is at gunpoint. He's quick to draw his gun. He threatens a lot of people around here--people are scared of him. When you see Atkins come out the car, go in your house, you might get shot.

But of course, fellow police are backing Atkins to the hilt. Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, declared, "Based on the facts and circumstances, I am confident our detective's actions were appropriate and justified." This from the same man who said that the charges filed against the officers who killed Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets in 2006 were "disgraceful, excessive, unprecedented."

LESS THAN 48 hours after Shantel was gunned down, family members, local activists, churches and community members called a vigil and march to the 67th Precinct where Detective Atkins is still on duty. On June 16, some 150 people came out to rally and march against this injustice.

The event began with a press conference. Speakers included progressive City Council member Jumaane Williams, representatives of Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, and members of the clergy. The parents of Ramarley Graham and Tamon Robinson, two families whose sons were also murdered by the NYPD this year, joined the parents of Shantel Davis.

A representative of the National Action Network spoke about the hypocrisy that the police used to justify their actions: "You want us to be responsible for our actions. Well doggone it, you have to be held accountable for yours. We are not going to be quiet. We are not going to roll over. There is a hedge of protection around this family."

Jumaane Williams demanded that Bloomberg come down and address the community to begin a conversation about how to address the racist practices of the NYPD. "They ask that we give the NYPD the benefit of the doubt," Williams said. "There are communities that can do that. It is hard in my community to give the NYPD the benefit of the doubt. My community elected me to tell the truth. I challenge the mayor and the commissioner to come speak to the community. But if you won't come speak to us, we'll come speak to you."

Williams went on to tell the press that he intends to hold a rally every Saturday at the intersection where Shantel was killed until Bloomberg contacts them.

Williams also focused on the racism that permeates the NYPD: "If we took the same exact background, actions, same car, same history and changed the complexion of their skin, moved it to the Upper West Side, would the result have been the same? Yes, 99.9 percent of the time, the answer is the result would different."

As each speaker spoke about Davis' case, it became clear that the story of Ramarley Graham, the story of Tamon Robinson and now the story of Shantel Davis are connected. The role of the NYPD is the same in every Black and brown neighborhood of New York City--to intimidate, terrorize and kill with impunity.

But the vigil in Flatbush and the next day's 15,000-strong march against stop-and-frisk, initiated by the NAACP, show that such blatant injustice is boiling over into resistance.

As Chevon Messiah, who organized the Saturday vigil, said:

We are not going to be passive about this. We are going to make sure that something comes out of this, and we're not stopping here. We are going to continue fighting against what they have done in the neighborhood--treating us like animals. We are not animals. We are humans.

Blair Ellis contributed to this article.

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