All Black children matter
Constance is the mother of Ramarley Graham, who was shot dead by NYPD Officer Richard Haste while he was unarmed and in his own bathroom in the presence of his grandmother. After the murder, Constance and Ramarley's father Frank Graham organized weekly vigils in front of their home that became organizing centers for activists across the city.
Taylonn's daughter Tayshana was a star high school basketball player who was killed in 2011, the victim of escalating violence between rival gangs in the Grant and Manhattanville housing projects. When the city escalated the aggressive policing in the neighborhood, Taylonn--a longtime community activist--spoke out against using his daughter's death as a justification for ruining the lives of more young people.
Constance and Taylonn talked toabout the state of the movement against police violence in New York and where they think activists need to focus future efforts.
THE BLACK Lives Matter (BLM) movement has seen hundreds of thousands of people across the country respond to Mike Brown's murder in Ferguson and Eric Garner's murder in New York City. What do you think this represents right now?
Constance: The BLM movement is good because it seemed like our lives didn't matter until Eric Garner and Mike Brown. We've been fighting this fight for the longest, but the fact that we have a video camera that shows a man being choked to death [and the cop still] walks free--this is showing us that our lives don't matter.
And we're telling them that our lives matter. We're going to stay in the streets, we're going disrupt everything, we're going to disrupt their money, and when we disrupt their money, they ain't going to like that. So this BLM movement is very good. And I hope that it stays, because once it slows down, the police are going to go right back to their nonsense.
Taylonn: Connie said it all right there abut the BLM movement. I'm all for it. One thing I do want to add, though, and I think Connie says this all the time: I wish that the BLM or the movement was like it is now, back then when Ramarley was killed. Because if it was like this when Ramarley was killed, I don't think there would have been an Eric Garner.
TAYLONN, COULD you talk a bit about the Both Sides of the Gun program?
Taylonn: Both Sides of the Gun is an initiative that I came up with during two trials that I went through about my daughter.
The first trial, I actually saw the parents on the other side of the aisle--the perpetrator's parents. They were so distraught by what was going on, and they were so distraught at how senseless the act really was, it gave me motivation that these parents and this family was going through a lot of pain, just as my family was going through a lot of pain.
One of the parents actually came up to me and asked me if she could give me a hug after being in the bathroom crying. She gave me a hug and you know we spoke and I said, you know I just got an idea. No matter what happens here in court, no matter what the verdict is, we're going to try to work together to quell this violence from both sides of the gun.
People don't realize that if somebody gets killed, the whole community hurts. It's not just the person who lost--it's the family, the community, and it's also the perpetrator's family. So I thought that if you're going to break a cycle, you have to try to go against the cycle. And people are so used to parents being mad at the other parents--I mean, I just look at it as parents trying to teach their kids the best way they can, and sometimes children go astray.
I could see that these women tried to do the best that they could, and they were very remorseful for what their child did. It just gave me the fuel to start thinking about an initiative that could change people's hearts and minds. So I thought about Both Sides of the Gun--a program where me and the other parents could come and talk about our pain and speak about how when you kill somebody, you destroy the community. You take a lot out of the community, and a lot of people in the community do hurt.
THAT TO me is a completely different way of fixing harm and healing harm than the police have taken toward your case, Constance. I read the Guardian article where you spoke about the fact that there is not even an FBI record of what the NYPD did to Ramarley. Could you comment any more about that ridiculous news and talk about where things are at in your case and what needs to be done?
Constance: When I did that article, they called me, and I was like: It's so funny that this case was so big, and for the Feds not to have that on record, it seems like they was trying to push my son's case under the rug. They didn't want to know about it. They just didn't care about him. They figure it's just one more Black boy and he didn't matter.
And by doing that article, I wanted to let them know that my son matters. All my Black boys matter. And don't think because you kill them, they're not going to have a voice. They're going to have a voice because we speak for them. They no longer speak for themselves, so I'm going to be my son's voice.
So whether you want to put it on a piece of paper that he was murdered by the NYPD, you're going to hear his name, because I'm going to make sure you know who he is, not who the media portrays him to be.
THIS IS a question for both of you. What was your response to the mayor responding to your demands for police reform, and saying that 1,000 more cops in the street is actually what we need right now?
Taylonn: I think hiring 1,000 more police officers is really an oxymoron. It goes against de Blasio supposedly being this progressive, because we all know that if you hire 1,000 more police, these rookie police officers are going to be pressured into making quotas. These quotas--all they're going to do is fuel the Broken Windows policy. Because Broken Windows, where does it focus on? Where do they give all their tickets out? Who do they harass? Communities of Black and Brown people.
We're going to be the ones who are going to have to deal with these police officers being in our streets, harassing our children, and giving out these fines and these fees, and all it's doing is actually it's balancing the city's budget.
We've seen that during the protests that [police union president] Pat Lynch did with the slowdown. During the slowdown, crime didn't go down--the only thing that went down was New York City's bank account. So I just think that this type of policing is about criminalizing a certain area, or certain groups of people.
Constance: And our kids. By giving our kids a ticket, they're giving them a record, and when they get older, they can't get a decent job because they're going to run a record and say they have these things. How are they helping kids? You want to help us? Put jobs in our communities. Give us after-school programs. Put out money to help mentally ill patients, not to shoot them.
Taylonn: Yes. That's exactly where I was going with it, Connie--you took the words right out of my mouth because they're criminalizing our kids.
Constance: They're not helping by putting more cops in the streets. All they're going to do is kill more Black and Brown people.
Taylonn: Exactly. Criminalizing our kids or making our kids into commodities. And when I say commodities, they send them away to prison--feeding the New Jim Crow, feeding the system.
Constance: Most of these kids who are in jail are for a minor offense compared to white kids who get a slap on the wrist. These people are doing hard time for little minor crimes that they committed while the white kids walk away.
Taylonn: We know that they're not getting 1,000 police to send them into Bensonhurst.
Constance: You know when de Blasio was first running for mayor, I met de Blasio a couple of times. I met his kids--I sat right next to them in D.C. [at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington]. When he ran, he wanted to get rid of "stop and frisk." I felt that's why a lot of minorities had voted for de Blasio. They were stopped so many times, they were frustrated, and he was saying that he was going to get rid of it.
But instead, he didn't. He tried to reform it. I didn't think that was a fair thing for him to run on if he wasn't going to go all the way with it. I was mad because that's part of why my son was killed--racial profiling.
Taylonn: My opinion on de Blasio is that I think he ran on a false platform. Like Connie eloquently said, he was running on a platform to stop "stop and frisk," and here he goes and brings back Bill Blatton, who's the architect of stop and frisk--and then you find another form of oppression by bringing in this Broken Windows policy.
I WANT you guys to go through some of the changes that you want to see.
Constance: We want to see officers held accountable for their actions. That's the number one thing. We want them to start being held accountable, and not a slap on the wrist and giving these officers immunity at the grand jury to lie for their peers.
Taylonn: I would also like to see recall ballots for politicians who run on certain platforms and then change it up once they get into office. I would also independent agencies--if they do have body cameras for police, I want them live-streamed to independent agencies.
Constance: Why do police have different laws from citizens? When they commit a crime, why don't they go to the same courts as a normal person would go through? You want to wait 24 hours or how many months before they could talk to people. You want to let them talk to representatives first, and they can't say nothing, but when you arrest me, you put me in a room and interrogate me without a lawyer.
Taylonn: I also think that with some of these cases, if the officer was held accountable--not just getting desk duty, if they got suspended without pay...
Constance: They are always getting that money. If you're found not guilty, then you get your money. But don't give them money while they're on desk duty. No, we're going to hold your pay until we find that you're not guilty, or you're clear of any charges. Then you start getting your pay.
Because they're doing these crimes, and they're still getting paid. They know they can still pay the mortgage, but if they commit a crime and they're not getting paid, guess what--they're going to lose their house. They're going to think twice about doing what they're doing.
EARLIER, YOU talked about instead of 1,000 more cops, how about 1,000 more jobs?
Taylonn: More jobs, more initiatives, more training that has jobs attached to them. Not just more jobs--more jobs where the pay can help you sustain yourself.
Constance: More random psychological testing. Some of these officers, they're coming back from war, and they have PTSD. From what I understand, they go in there, and they only take one psychological test. They don't take another one. When they shoot a person, do they do another psychological test before they go back in the field? What do you do when you're on desk duty? Is there any training that you're doing before you go back in the field?
Those are the things that we need to see happen. Then we can have a relationship with the police. We can't have a relationship with them when they're not trying to fix the problem. You can't just put a Band-Aid on a problem and expect everything to go okay. No, it's not going to be okay. Things are going to fester.
HOW DO we accomplish these things that you just talked about? What do people need to start doing now?
Taylonn: One thing I think people need to do is get involved. Don't believe the hype. Don't believe everything that you hear on television, and don't let the momentum go away when we're getting some kind of headway.
I think people need to look up some of these cases and really see what's going on with them. Go into their place of business, work everywhere and start talking about them. Start coming out, start being active, whether it be just sending out e-mails, whether it be marching, whether it be going to City Council meetings.
I think that we should start boycotting certain places that support the NYPD or support the things that they're doing. So I think it's many things that we need to do. But we start with those few, and we'll gain even more ground in this fight.
Constance: If we come together, we can move mountains. If we stick together, we can make changes. But we have to learn how to get along with each other, and think with each other because we can really make a lot of changes, but we have to put our mind to it and believe in what we doing.
Taylonn: I want to add this. Instead of police department having "pizza parties with gang members"--supposedly "hard-core gang members"--I don't know if you all read that article. I found it kind of amusing. What needs to be done is try to allocate funds to people who are on the ground, working with the youth, people who are trying to make the communities better places, because I think a lot of this stuff is thematic, and it comes from poverty.
A lot of things come from poverty. And then we get profiled, because these officers who don't live in our communities and don't know nothing about them come into our communities with what they heard at roll call or what they heard from TV and how the media portrays things in our community, and they make things much worse.
I think that in the Black and Brown community, we can have it the same as they have it in the Jewish community here in New York. You have your own group of elders or people who do neighborhood watches and different things. So before you come into that community, harassing anybody, you have to go through that board of directors or board of elders.
I think that that's fair because that's what's being done in those other communities. I don't see why it can't be done in our community. I think it would help a little bit more, and I think that's really what community policing is about--the community policing its own community.
Constance: We just want accountability for our families. Taylonn said that I keep saying this: If we would have had accountability in Ramarley's case, Eric Garner would not have happened, because I think they would have think twice.
And not only that--we need to be having these DAs accountable also, because in these cases, they're not doing what they're supposed to do. They bring the cases to the grand jury, just to make us feel like they're doing something. They're setting up the case for a failure already.
Transcription by Karen Domínguez Burke