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A murder in the Bronx

Pastor Michael Walrond Jr | 4/25/2012, 5:07 p.m.
There is a tragic heaviness I feel in my spirit that is equal to my...
Temper tantrums and handcuffs

There is a tragic heaviness I feel in my spirit that is equal to my frustration and anger when I think of the senseless and tragic death of a Bronx teenager named Ramarley Graham.

Graham was the unarmed 18-year-old African-American male shot to death in his grandmother's apartment on Feb. 2. Amidst murky details, questions abound about the circumstances surrounding this young man's death.

Graham was shot by Richard Haste, a New York City police officer who pursued Graham into the house of his grandmother and shot Graham in the chest as he attempted to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet. Members of a street narcotics squad who had a local convenience store under surveillance, claimed that they observed Graham leaving the convenience store with what appeared to be the butt of a gun in his waistband. Police officials claimed Graham fled after two plainclothes police officers told him to stop. It was at that point that police officers followed Graham to his grandmother's house.

A surveillance camera located outside the house shows the young man entering the house and police officers, with guns drawn, appearing shortly thereafter and attempting to kick the front door down. The officers were let into the house by Graham's grandmother shortly thereafter.

Haste's partner told investigators that when he and Haste entered the house, Haste identified himself as a police officer, told Graham to "show his hands" and then yelled "gun, gun" before firing the fatal shot.

Graham's grandmother contests the officer's story. She indicates that she did not hear Haste say anything before shooting her grandson. Although it is unclear what really transpired inside the three-story house in the Bronx on that fateful day, a few things are certain: Graham had no gun, Haste shot an unarmed man and Graham is dead.

As the father of a 20-year-old African-American male, I tell him that if he is ever stopped by the police, especially members of NYPD, he ought to be respectful and cooperative. I say this to him because I know that there are some police officers who, because of cultural insensitivity, may make certain assumptions about him because of what he may represent in their eyes. The sad truth is that in New York City, many African-Americans and Latinos are viewed with an eye of suspicion.

In fact, in 2011, through a dehumanizing police policy known as "stop and frisk," over 500,000 New Yorkers were stopped and searched and 85 percent of those stopped were African-American or Latino. In my opinion, this is not effective policing but is a form of sanctioned profiling and harassment.

In some targeted communities, people feel as though they are living in occupied territories and there is a justified fear of the police. To be sure, criminals who wreak havoc in certain communities ought to be fearful of the police, but ordinary citizens should not live under the threat of police bullying.

I am aware that there are many police officers who take their call to protect and serve quite seriously. These officers have sought to enhance the quality of life in many communities throughout this city, but then there are those officers who behave as though their gun and badge gives them the right to engage in destructive, dehumanizing behavior. It is unfortunate that the recklessness of a few can tarnish the image of many. Is that not ironic?

I pray that those investigating Graham's case will be courageous enough to do so with integrity and honesty. If it is found that there was police wrongdoing and that the death of Graham was unnecessary, I pray that the Bronx district attorney prosecutes all police officers involved so that the community will know there is no tolerance for unjustifiable use of deadly force.

I pray for a day in our city when the value of life is not determined by one's ZIP code or address, but by the dignity that is inherent in all human beings. Ultimately, I pray that Graham's death was not in vain and that justice is served.