Bronx resident Deborah Danner has been added to a long list of Black people fatally shot by law enforcement as the NYPD is admitting it failed.
The shooting took place Tuesday night on Pugsley Avenue in Castle Hill. Law enforcement officials said officers responded to a 911 call about Danner, 66, who was acting irrationally. Allegedly armed with scissors, she was convinced by an officer in her seventh-floor apartment to put them down before allegedly picking up a baseball bat.
Danner allegedly tried to hit NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry, who in return fired two shots into her torso. She was taken to Jacobi Medical Center, where she died.
Suffering from mental illness, Danner lived alone. Police had been called to her apartment in the past and took her to the hospital with no problems. On the night of her death, Danner’s sister called police to take her to the hospital as she had in the past.
Barry had a Taser and did not use it, nor did he use training on how to de-escalate situations. He has been stripped of his badge and gun and placed on modified assignment pending an investigation.
Danner’s killing is being compared to the 1984 police killing of Eleanor Bumpurs in the Bronx. In that case, officers were sent to Bumpurs’ home to issue her an eviction notice. An emotionally disturbed Bumpurs threatened to throw boiling lye on officers and had a knife. She was fatally shot twice by officers after they broke in.
Protest in the aftermath of Danne’s shooting have ensued. Reports indicate that dozens of protesters have marched through Castle Hill with signs. Members of Black Lives Matter and NYC Shut it Down have joined the demonstrations.
In a joint statement, Assemblyman Charles Barron and Council Member Inez Barron labeled the shooting a crime. “This is a clear case of a senseless use of excessive deadly force. However, as we have experienced in New York and across the nation, when it comes to Black people, police can kill us with impunity, an exemption from punishment or consequences. This officer should be indicted, convicted and sent to jail for the rest of his life,” they said. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. called the shooting “unacceptable” and made a detailed comparison between Danner and Bumpurs. “Tonight’s incident is all too reminiscent of the case of Eleanor Bumpurs and a much darker time for this city and this nation in terms of police/community relations,” he said. “Hasn’t anything changed over the last 32 years?” The Rev. Al Sharpton also compared Danner to Bumpurs, calling the shooting “atrocious.” He called for an overhaul in police training and a review of those qualified to become police officers. “We cannot return to a city of Eleanor Bumpurs-type shootings that we fought many years ago in the same borough,” he said. “The Mayor and Commissioner O’Neill should meet with those working to remedy this for years. Commissioner O’Neill’s statements were good and responsible but should be the beginning of the overhaul and systemic change, not the conclusion of this case.”
“The NYPD’s killing of Deborah Danner by avoidable violence is appalling and should raise serious questions about why police are first responders in apparent incidents of emotional or mental health distress,” said Monifa Bandele, Communities United for Police Reform representative. “Our condolences are with the family, friends and community as they mourn their loss. Danner’s killing is yet another tragic example that training and changed rhetoric are no solution to the police violence that is killing and brutalizing Black and Latino people across this nation, of which New York is by no means unblemished, when accountability is absent. It’s troubling that this seems to be at least the seventh death of a New Yorker traditionally considered ‘emotionally disturbed’ by NYPD, as a result of NYPD use-of-force or in police custody during the de Blasio administration. Some have occurred as a result of the use of Taser, highlighting it is not a ‘safer’ weapon of force. It remains puzzling why the mayor seems to be claiming this is an anomaly, disregarding the lives of other New Yorkers taken in similar circumstances during his tenure.”
Bandele added, “While acknowledgement of failure is an important step, whether this administration is serious about changing more than just rhetoric will be measured by whether disciplinary action is swift, meaningful and comprehensive—something absent in far too many cases, like Ramarley Graham who was killed over 4 and a half years ago without any disciplinary action taken yet. Unfortunately, the NYPD’s update to its use-of-force guidelines earlier this year weakened the guidelines in several ways, including removing that ‘Deadly physical force will be used ONLY as a last resort and consistent with Department policy and the law.’ The NYPD under Mayor de Blasio also failed to meaningfully discipline an officer for not following protocol in a similar circumstance related to the killing of Mohamed Bah under the Bloomberg administration, highlighting the importance of police accountability and its absence during this administration.
“The historic and systemic lack of transparency by the NYPD and selective release of information—the assertion that Officer Barry had no disciplinary record when the administration has used state law 50-a to conceal such information—only further erodes trust. The New York State Attorney General’s special prosecutor should take over this case to independently investigate and hold officers accountable to the law.”
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Thursday that his office will not investigate Danner’s killing. An executive order went into effect in 2015 after the police killing of Eric Garner appointing the attorney general to oversee police/civilian shooting investigations. However, Schneiderman said in a statement that the Bronx District Attorney must take the lead.
“After reviewing the available facts and evidence, our Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit has determined that this incident falls beyond my office’s jurisdiction under the Governor’s Executive Order No. 147, which grants my office jurisdiction only under limited circumstances,” he said.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in statement that her office plans to look at the situation.
“I intend to conduct a full, reasoned and independent investigation into this matter, with an open mind, and any decisions that I make will be based upon the evidence,” she said.
Officials across the city are condemning the shooting, saying that Danner should not have been killed and questioning whether or not Barry used excessive force.
“What is clear in this one instance, we failed,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. “I want to know why it happened. It’s not enough to say that in a vast majority of cases we get it right, because any one life lost is a precious life.”
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he spoke to Danner’s sister about what happened.
“We need to know why the officer did not follow his training and follow those protocols,” said de Blasio. “It should never have happened. The NYPD’s job is to protect life.”
Public Advocate Letitia James said she was following the situation and echoed that more should have been done to keep Danner safe.
“I am calling for a swift and thorough investigation into this tragic incident and for the findings to be released publicly,” she said. “While we are still learning details about this evening’s incident, I am renewing my call to expand the use of nonlethal use of force by the NYPD.”