Demanding Justice for Saheed Vassell

(Screen shot from Color of Change campaign urging the release of information about the killing of Saheed Vassell)

Color of Change, the online racial justice organization, collected more than 20,000 signatures urging NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to reveal the names of officers who in April shot and killed Saheed Vassell, and last week his father Eric Vassell delivered the petitions to City Hall, report The Amsterdam News and Black Star News.

Writes Kyana Harris in The Amsterdam News:

On April 4, Vassell, 34, who lived with mental health issues, was shot at least ten times in Crown Heights, Brooklyn by five police officers. Law enforcement received 911 calls from residents citing a man in the street holding a gun, which turned out to be a welding torch.

Vassell’s parents are calling for transparency from the NYPD and the city. Over two months later, the family still hasn’t received the names of the officers who shot the victim. They are also seeking an explanation as to why the militarized Strategic Response Group counterterrorism unit was deployed to handle the situation.

Instead of releasing the officers’ names, the NYPD quickly released the victim’s alleged criminal history.

Black Star News, like The Amsterdam News, quoted from a joint statement issued by Vassell’s parents: “It has now been over 11 weeks and the fact that Mayor de Blasio has failed to provide basic transparency around the killing of our son leads us to believe the worst – that this mayor and the NYPD are trying to cover-up something.” Both publications also reported the statement from Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change:

“It is outrageous that we still do not know the names of the officers involved in Saheed’s murder and that full, unedited footage of the police’s actions has not been released. Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to hold the police accountable sets a dangerous precedent and continues to give the NYPD the freedom to attack our communities without fear of punishment. We continue to demand Mayor de Blasio take action on Saheed’s case, hold the NYPD accountable and end the deployment of the over-militarized Strategic Response Group in our communities.”

Black Star News went on to describe what instead has happened since Vassell’s death.

Instead of being transparent with the release of all relevant information, the NYPD engaged in a public relations campaign to influence initial public perception of Vassell’s killing. They placed all of the focus on Vassell, the victim of police violence, rather than officers’ actions, constructing and disseminating a self-serving narrative. They selectively released information, including doctored pictures and video.

They even unethically – and potentially unlawfully – leaked information about Vassell’s alleged summonses and criminal justice history. At the same time, the NYPD deflected attention from its officers’ actions in the incident, refusing to release the names, misconduct histories, and unedited video of the officers involved in the killing. 11 weeks later and the NYPD has still refused to release the names of officers, despite the fact that other cities routinely release such information in the aftermath of shootings within 72 hours.

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