“He wasn’t a dog. You should have given him a chance. One shot was enough.”
Carol Gray is the grieving mother of police shooting victim Kimani Gray. As she prepares to bury her 16-year-old son this weekend, she has a message for the cops, who are led by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and de facto head of the NYPD, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Haven’t you guys done enough? Too many families go through this same thing. Haven’t you formed a base where you can retrain these officers how to approach a scene of a crime or whatever? How to deal with juveniles?” Carol Gray asked.
The East Flatbush neighborhood where the young man was shot by the much-sued Officer Jovaniel Cordova and Sgt. Mourad Mourad on Saturday, March 9, remains tense after days of vigils, protests and clashes with police. The official story is that the officers observed Gray hanging with a group of youths, and when confronted by cops, he began fidgeting with his waistband and pulled out a gun. The officers shot at him 11 times, hitting him seven times, at least three times in the back. Several witnesses have stated that Gray had no gun and begged for his life. Cops took a few days to release an image of the gun, and Bloomberg took days before he issued brief comments on the case. This Friday and Saturday, there will be a wake and funeral for the teen.
The officers have been put on modified duty. While the young man’s family met with District Attorney Charles Hynes on Wednesday, a “wanted” poster has already popped up on the Internet for the two cops. (See story on page 3.)
Speaking to the Amsterdam News late Tuesday night, alongside Councilman Charles Barron, Carol Gray sent a message to NYPD officers. “You are trained to protect and serve,” she charged. “You are trained for situations like this. And my Kimani was not going to come at you, the Kimani I know–because I am not a mom who turns her nose up and does not get involved in my kid’s situation. I look at everything. I check in the night. I know what is going on in the street.”
Asked if she thought her son had a weapon, Gray told the AmNews, “I wasn’t there, but the Kimani who I know would not be walking around with a gun. Kimani walks around with condoms in his pocket. He was responsible. I overheard the conversations he had on the phone with females.”
Saying that she told him to be responsible, Gray broke down when another realization hit her. “Unfortunately, I am not going to see that–you know. I won’t see what his children would look like–what kind of job he would be holding down. What kind of man he would develop into being,” she said.
Often switching from past to present tense when talking about her second-to-last born, Gray said, “Kimani was bright, respectful. He also had struggles because he wanted to do the best for us. He wanted me to be content and stop worrying so much, so he was trying to do the right thing by attending school every day. At the same time, he had struggles because he was a normal teenager.
“I have been reaching out to the Black mothers like me. I don’t want them to give up on their children. [I want to] help [the children] fight for their dreams even if they see them going down the wrong lane–still try and fight for them–because they want better, but there is so much peer pressure out there for them.”
Gray said that while her son had a 12 a.m. curfew, she had a plan for a sort of emergency youth shelter that would get kids off the street if they had no way to get home. “I always said if I won the lotto, I would build community-based spaces for the kids so that they could have some place safe to go, where they can phone their parents and say they are staying there all night if they need to. Somewhere they could go so they wouldn’t be harassed by the cops.
“That’s what I wanted for Kimani. A structured department for them–someone they could trust so they don’t have to worry about being searched because, ‘We are young, our pants are sagging, and I got a do-rag on,’ or hoodies on their head–that’s my outlook for children of Kimani’s age.”
It seems both heart- wrenching and therapeutic for the Jamaican native to talk about her loss. Said Gray, “Kimani is one of the most respectable kids in my household. He was a great uncle because I have three grandchildren, and he was very, very helpful.” Breaking down again, the grandmom said, “Every day they ask, ‘Where is Kimani?’ I can’t tell them because if they knew, they wouldn’t understand.”
Gray, who said she had seven children in her household, continued.
“Kimani was aware of the harassment because he had been stopped so many times. I told him that it is about being young and you are walking in a group, and every group is considered to be gang-affiliated. I know, I watch about what gang affiliation is, and Kimani and his group were nowhere close to that. There’s no organization, there’s no pledges. There’s no order. There’s no meetings. It is just a group of kids who grew up in the same neighborhood, attend the same public schools and became friends and want to hang out, and then there’s other kids from other neighborhoods, and ultimately they become rivals. And you tell them you are not rivals–you are one blood. Kimani has no orders except my order, my curfew, and I am just so sorry that his life has been taken.”
Gray mourned, “I just sit in my living room. I won’t go to bed. Just waiting and hoping for the bell to ring, and trying not to fall asleep–just hoping Kimani is trying to come home. Kimani has never spent a night out on the street. Maybe life struggles were trying to turn him in a different direction, but I always told him that I was there for him. That education was everything. I told him, ‘I am here for you.’”
Gray told the AmNews that she lost her eldest son, Gerard, two years ago in a car accident. “And he was one of Kimani’s idols.”
As for the slain teen, Gray said that Kimani “wanted to be an architect and build low-income houses because he saw me, his mom, struggle to get an apartment that I could afford. So he wanted to set it up so that young Black kids could have their own room and be comfortable.”
Police-community relations have not really recovered from horrendous cases such as Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham and Shantel Davis.
“I see on the police cars it says ‘courtesy.’ I have never seen courtesy,” Gray noted. “I have been called ‘bitch’ and all types of names and watched kids been kicked down, and I have seen children been searched, and I have tried to step in and observe, and the officers have said, ‘Mind your business’ and stuff like that.
“These officers go around like cowboys rather than serving and protecting, but plainclothes officers move around like they are on their own team, like they are bandits, and if you don’t know your rights, they treat you like you are nothing. Every day.”
Responding to the massive community response, Gray said, “There is more than frustration. There is anger. There is hurt. I have people more than 60-, 70-something years old crying for Kimani because he would help with their bags, open the door, walk the ladies down the block because they were paranoid. People are very angry, but all I am saying is that we don’t want any war; we want peace for Kimani, because any form of war won’t bring Kimani back. If you try and leave a message with violence, people are going to get hurt the same as Kimani.”
As she makes final arrangements for the wake on Friday and funeral on Saturday, a devastated Gray said, “Kimani wasn’t a gang member. He was my son, my baby who just turned 16 four months ago. Me and my community, we are hoping and praying for that–to send a message [to the police], that they have to be more careful how they approach someone. These kids are our future. They are our lawyers, our doctors, our DAs. We have to give them a chance. We want equal rights–not mental slavery.”
Gray concluded, “I want justice. I want the truth. I want Kimani’s name to be cleared from being a gang member to being a teenaged boy. Gang members don’t attend school everyday. Kimani goes to a school where your pants can’t hang. He wears dress slacks and button-down shirts and dress-code shoes–and he has to have a hair cut. He was trying in school. He had potential, from me pushing him and teachers caring about him. He had a lot of potential and they took that from me–and took that from him.”