Don’t let them kill the call for justice

August 13, 2013

Yoni Golijov reports from New York on angry protests after a killer cop walked again.

"IT'S LIKE they killed my son all over again," said Frank Graham.

Last week, a grand jury refused to indict New York Police Department officer Richard Haste, the cop who murdered 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in the bathroom of his Bronx home while his grandmother and 6-year-old brother were nearby. This is an outrageous setback in the movement to win justice for Ramarley and for all the Blacks and Latinos who have been killed by the NYPD.

In June 2012, a grand jury did, in fact, indict Richard Haste. It was the first indictment ever in the Bronx for a murder committed by a police officer and the first of a killer cop in all of New York City since 2006, when NYPD officers killed Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets.

However, a judge threw out the indictment last May, claiming to be concerned that the first grand jurors got erroneous instructions from prosecutors about what they could consider. This paved the way for a new grand jury to reverse the decision to put Haste on trial.

With the city's court system having run its course, justice has supposedly been served--and the demands of Ramarley's supporters should disappear. But Ramarley's family and the activists who have supported them are doing everything but disappearing. They plan to make the movement bigger, louder and stronger.

Marching for Ramarley outside the Bronx District Attorney's office
Marching for Ramarley outside the Bronx District Attorney's office (Ramarley’s Call)

IN PREPARATION for the grand jury decision, Ramarley's family and the Justice Committee--a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting families whose loved ones have been killed by the NYPD--spread the word that there would be a rally at the Bronx DA's office on the day after the decision was announced, either to celebrate a re-indictment or express outrage over a non-indictment.

When it was announced on Wednesday, August 7, that the grand jury had refused to indict, the family immediately called a press conference in advance of the planned rally, began organizing for a second demonstration for the following Saturday and launched a petition for a federal investigation into Ramarley's murder. Throughout the day, ralliers collected hundreds of signatures on the petition from passersby, creating opportunities to explain the case to more people and get them involved in the struggle.

That very same afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would review the case to investigate if any civil rights laws had been violated.

Up to 100 people showed up for the press conference in front of the Bronx DA's office, and another 50 to 75 passersby stopped to listen. A dozen TV news stations sent cameras and reporters, and citizen journalists showed up in large numbers as well. "The criminal justice system has failed us, just as it failed the family of Trayvon Martin," Constance Malcolm, Ramarley's mother, said.

Along with Ramarley's family members and their lawyer, the crowd heard angry criticisms of police from mayoral candidate John Liu and City Council member Jumaane Williams. National Action Network Executive Director Tamika Mallory expressed her outrage in personal terms, saying she sometimes wished she could paint her son's face white before she lets him out the door.

After the press conference and a short break, the family led a defiant three-mile march of around 100 people from the Bronx DA's office, over the bridge to Manhattan, winding through Harlem, pausing at the NYPD's 32nd Precinct and ending at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building on 125th Street.

The march, loud from the beginning, got a boost when a member of the revolutionary hip-hop group Rebel Diaz brought a sound system on a cart, and chants of "NYPD, KKK! How many kids did you kill today?" rang out through the streets. The sound system was especially useful for amplifying the voice of the 10-year-old daughter of a family friend who was leading much of the chanting.

Employees came out of stores to listen and cheer and photograph. A dozen middle school-aged children joined the march for a few blocks. Many passersby joined for a block or two, chanting and videotaping.

This was only the second time Ramarley's family and supporters had marched through Harlem, so Frank stopped the march every 10 or 15 blocks so he could explain why the demonstrators were marching. He told the story of how the NYPD broke into his son's home without a warrant, how they shot Ramarley in the heart, and how the court system was refusing them even an inch of justice.

At each stop, Frank not only talked about Ramarley's case, but connected it to racism on a societal level. "If Ramarley was white, he'd still be alive today," Frank said at one stop outside an open-air restaurant, to applause and cheers from marchers and bystanders. "And if the officer was Black, he'd have to hope and plea-bargain not to spend the rest of his natural life in prison. Racism is alive and well."

Gesturing to the multiracial marchers surrounding him, Frank continued, "We are not against Caucasians, as you see. We have people of all walks of life with us. It's not about hating one race, it's about demanding respect for all races! And there comes a time, ladies and gentlemen, when if we can't get it, we're going to take it.

"There is a holiday coming up in December. I know all of you are thinking: Oh yeah, he's talking about Christmas. No. I'm talking about the biggest holiday for Blacks and Latinos. Does anyone know what day that is? It's the day when Mayor Bloomberg leaves office!"

At this, the crowd erupted in cheers--and then repeated the judgment of "horrible" as Frank asked them to look at the state of education, public health care, housing and police relations with the community.

This verdict on Mayor Bloomberg's reign was vindicated by a federal court just this week when the judge presiding over a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" policy ruled that the crown jewel of policing under Bloomberg is racist through and through. This is an important victory for people who have been subjected to stop-and-frisk for years, and all those who have stood up against it. But as Ramarley's case shows, there's still much work to be done.

And Ramarley's family and supporters are facing the challenges head-on. They ended the eight-hour-long day of press conferences and marching with a speak-out, inviting everyone up to talk. The sister of Mohamed Bah, who was also killed by NYPD in his own home, spoke out. The speak-out ended with Rebel Diaz performing their song "Stop Stop-and-Frisk!" and the whole rally singing Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up!"

YET RAMARELY'S family barely took a day off. On Saturday, they held another march from their home to the NYPD precinct where the police who killed Ramarley work. Another 100 people gathered under the hot sun in front of the house where Ramarley was killed for the protest.

The National Action Network sent representatives to announce that they were naming one of their buses going to the August 24 March on Washington in honor of Ramarley. In addition, Ramarley's Call, the grassroots organization leading the fight for justice, is organizing one of its own busses for supporters.

John Liu also spoke again, calling for an end to stop-and-frisk and offering to buy tickets to go to the March on Washington for folks who can't afford them.

Speaking to the press with supporters behind her, Constance Graham said that she wasn't just fighting for Ramarley, but "for all kids, Black and Latino." As she continued:

We all know the justice system doesn't work for us...As long as we're poor people, it doesn't work for us. And it's time that we stop bending over and stand straight, and let them know enough is enough--we can't tolerate our kids being murdered in the street, and in my case, in my home. Law enforcement doesn't care about us. They don't care about our Fourth Amendment rights anymore. The shackles are off, but we're still in slavery.

Natasha Davis, the sister of Shantel Davis, who was murdered by NYPD officer Phillip "Bad Boy" Atkins, also came to the rally to support the Ramarley's family and speak out about the importance the movement to end racist police murders.

I'm here because I'm supporting Constance and Frank. They've been supporting me, and I like to see that everybody is out here.

When I woke up today, I felt like I can't believe that I have to come to a rally because this system won't do anything. What more evidence do you need? In my sister's case, I don't have any hope--no hope at all. [Ramarley's] family was what I was looking to get a little piece of some justice, because I thought it was locked down--I thought we had it in the bag. I can't believe we're not here celebrating Richard Haste's 25-to-life sentence or something like that. Let's be out here whenever we can, because...I just want them to be supported. I'm here to support them as much as I can.

Constance thanked her supporters and made clear once again that she and Frank will never give up: "I love my people...they've been here from day one. I know they're going to stay with me until we get justice."

Gary Lapon contributed to this article.

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