“Why does it continue to happen that black and brown men – Latino and African-American men – die at the hands of the NYPD?” asked Councilwoman Letitia James (video above) at a community meeting on the death of Shem Walker, fatally shot by an unknown NYPD officer on his stoop in Clinton Hill.
“Where is the outrage, where is the protest?” she asked. “Why is it not on the front page of mainstream media?”
Mr. Walker, 49, was outside of 370 Lafayette Avenue on July 11 when he was killed in an altercation with an undercover officer working a drug bust. The NYPD has not identified the officer responsible and say the incident is under investigation. Ms. James announced that she presented a witness to the District Attorney’s office, and knows of one other that may have also been interviewed about the incident for an ongoing investigation.
On Wednesday night, Ms. James stood next to Mr. Walker’s daughters Shavone and Shameka, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and members from the National Action Network and 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement. A crowd of neighborhood residents had gathered at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church to remember Mr. Walker’s life and discuss the implications, policy and the prevention of tragedies like this one.
“There was great hope that coming in to the 2009 legislative session with the change in control that had taken place up in the senate, that many of the progressive issues that folks had been pushing for, for a long period of time…was coming to fruition now that things have changed,” Assemblyman Jeffries posited to the crowded room.
“The expectation was most of them wouldn’t get addressed until the end of June, and on the agenda in the weeks that immediately followed the coop, and before the coop occurred, were things like the Diallo package and dealing with police community relations.”
Mr. Jeffries was referring to legislation named for Amadou Diallo, a 23 year-old Guinean man shot 41 times by police in the Bronx in 1999. According to the Legislative Gazette, the legislation “would require drug and alcohol testing of police officers after they discharge their weapons in the course of duty. It would also prohibit racial profiling, limit no-knock search warrants and compel the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate charges of police misconduct.”
The assemblyman added, “It’s important to understand that there really are forces in Albany that are doing everything that they can to stop the kind of legislative change that perhaps would prevent good men like Shem Walker from being killed.”
Kirsten Foy, the Walker family spokesperson and a member of the National Action Network, called the Walker family “the definition of dignity.”
“No one has an answer for that: Why don’t the officers use non-lethal weapons?” asked Ms. Walker, 22, an Iraq war soldier (pictured, right) scheduled to leave soon for a second tour. “Something as little as a taser – you can take somebody down easily with a taser if you feel they are not cooperating.”
At a precinct meeting in June after the death of officer Omar Edwards – a black officer shot by another, white, officer – Mark Winston Griffith, a candidate for City Council asked Commissioner Ray Kelly, “Is there anyway the police can be retrained to perhaps shoot to maim instead of killing someone?”
“You have to train people to shoot to the body mass,” the commissioner responded. “You know the officers are nervous, their adrenaline is flowing, you can’t possibly train – somebody put this proposed legislation in the New York State legislature – this is absolutely impossible to enforce, to have that in place. You have to shoot to stop, in order to stop someone you have to shoot to the body mass.”
But in this instance, Ms. Walker believes that excessive forced was used. “It was two officers, so you mean to tell me that the second officer couldn’t prevent that shooting? Come on, come on!”
“We questioned them in the commissioner’s meeting – they had no answer, because they know they were wrong,” added her sister Shavone Walker, on the mystery surrounding the final moments of her father’s life. “[Commissioner Kelly] was stumbling over his own words, he prepared it, but he knows there’s so many flaws in what he prepared he couldn’t even find words to say this happened.”
“When he gave that presentation,” she added, “I thought that someone of his ranking could eloquently describe what happened or what they thought happened during the altercation. Now, as my sister mentioned, there were two police officers, according to them there was actually three officers, you couldn’t take one man down?”