Ramarley's call still rings out

Lichi D'Amelio reports from New York City on a protest to confront Ramarley Graham's murderer--and a powerful memorial dinner held in his honor.

Protesters demand justice for Ramarley Graham outside the courthouse (Alexis Lim)Protesters demand justice for Ramarley Graham outside the courthouse (Alexis Lim)

CONSTANCE MALCOLM and Franclot Graham entered a Bronx courthouse on December 11 and for the third time came face to face with Richard Haste, the New York Police Department (NYPD) officer who murdered their 18-year-old son Ramarley Graham last February.

The case has not yet gone to trial--Haste was indicted on June 13 on first- and second-degree manslaughter charges.

The uncontested details of Ramarley's killing are well known: Haste and his fellow officers from the Bronx Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit broke into Graham's home where Haste shot him once through the chest as he stood in his bathroom. The witnesses to these horrific events were Graham's grandmother and 6-year-old brother. Haste claims--as all police officers who kill unarmed Black men seem to--that he thought Graham had a gun.

Incidents of police officers murdering Black and Brown men and women are all too common in New York City and across the country. What's unique about this case--are nearly so--is that criminal charges have been brought against Haste. This hasn't happened in New York City since 2007, when three police officers were indicted on charges of manslaughter, reckless endangerment and assault after they killed 23-year-old Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets. The inclusion of the lesser charges didn't prevent all three officers in the Bell case from being acquitted.

So it's true that the odds are stacked against Malcolm and Graham winning justice for their son. But the inspiring struggle they have led--and they support they have garnered--offers the hope of victory. When Malcolm and Graham entered the courtroom on December 11, they were flanked by nearly 100 supporters and family members. Meanwhile, outside the courthouse, 150 to 200 supporters rallied, chanting, "Richard Haste, you can't hide. We charge you with homicide!"

Among those who stood by the Graham family in court was Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., whose 68-year-old father was murdered in his home by Officer Anthony Carelli in White Plains, N.Y., on November 19, after Chamberlain accidentally set off his medic alert button.

Also there in solidarity was Oumou Bah, the sister of 28-year-old Mohamed Bah, murdered by the NYPD on September 25 of this year after his mother called 911. So was Margarita Rosario, one of the founders of Parents Against Police Brutality and mother of Anthony Rosario, who was killed by police in 1995 along with his cousin Hilton Vega as both lay face down on the ground--after 16 years, Rosario is still not giving up the fight for her son.

Outside, among the chanting demonstrators, stood Natasha Duncan, the sister of 23-year-old Shantel Davis, killed by NYPD officer Phillip Atkins in June of this year as she sat trapped in a car begging him not to kill her; and Danette Chavis, mother of Gregory Chavis, left by police to bleed to death after suffering a gunshot wound in 2004.

This show of solidarity by other family members of police murder victims wasn't just a spontaneous act, but the result of a dedicated outreach campaign that has defined Malcolm and Graham's efforts to win justice.

Time and again they have stated in clear terms that the fight for justice goes beyond Ramarley's case and must include all victims of police murder. For this reason, Ramarley's Call--the committee of family members and supporters who have been organizing around the case--puts on events that include family members of other police murder victims whenever possible.

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ON DECEMBER 8, just three days before they were to appear in court, Malcolm and Graham organized a dinner in honor of Ramarley.

Held at an SEIU hall, the nearly 300 attendees included all of the victims' family members who supported the Graham family in court, as well as Nicole Paultre Bell, fianc├ę of Sean Bell; Yusef Salaam, exonerated in the Central Park Five case after spending years behind bars. Leading civil rights figures such as Cornel West, Rev. Al Sharpton, Brooklyn City Council member Jumaane Williams and former aide to the city's public advocate Kirsten John Foy joined them in speaking from the stage in support of the Graham family.

The event was both historic and devastating. One family member after another told their stories as emotional attendees held their heads in their hands and shed tears for the losses these families have endured.

Margarita Rosario wept as she described how painful each year without her son has been and how the holidays in particular are only reminders that "he's never coming back." Nicole Paultre Bell explained to audience members that her young children lost a loving father, the youngest of whom, a baby when Sean was killed, only knows him through stories. Danette Chavis brilliantly closed out the evening by pointing out the hypocrisy of a system that punishes petty criminals and the innocent, while the police get away with murder every time.

Those fighting for racial justice in New York City have our work cut out for us. There are some key dates to organize around in the coming months. February 2 will mark one year since Ramarley Graham was murdered. The family and their supporters are gearing up to publicly remember the events of that day and to show the police they will never stop fighting for Ramarley.

Richard Haste's lawyers used the December 11 court date to file yet another motion to extend until March 26. Their strategy is to draw the case out in hopes that support will wane. Our strategy is to keep building support in the months to come so that we have more people than ever inside and outside of the courtroom on March 26.

The sympathy and solidarity that all of these family members have received from perfect strangers and have shown to one another is beyond heartening. It is proof positive that the potential exists for a struggle that can challenge the police and the entire system that perpetuates racist abuse and violence.