The New York City Police Department is under mounting criticism after police shot dead an unarmed teenager inside his own home. Eighteen-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot at close range in his parents’ apartment in the Bronx after being chased into the house by narcotics detectives. Police said they found marijuana in the home and think Graham may have been trying to flush some down the toilet. The NYPD is coming under criticism not only for shooting Graham, but also for its broader stop-and-frisk policy, which critics say disproportionately targets people of color. On Monday, about 500 protesters rallied in the Bronx to condemn the police treatment of black youth. We speak to Jamel Mims, an organizer with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, which is working to end the practice of "stop and frisk," and Nicholas Peart, who is serving as a witness in a federal class action lawsuit challenging "stop and frisk" as racist and unconstitutional. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Springsteen’s "American Skin (41 Shots)," inspired by the New York police shooting of Amadou Diallo. That was on February 4th, 1999. Diallo was killed in a hail of police bullets after police officers mistook his wallet for a gun as he was trying to enter his own home. Four officers fired 41 times, fatally killing the 23-year-old Guinean immigrant. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, nearly 13 years later to the day, there’s a new Amadou Diallo, and his name is Ramarley Graham. Last Thursday, he was shot at close range in his parents’ apartment in the Bronx after being chased into the house by narcotics detectives. According to a recently released surveillance video, the officers followed Graham to the second-floor apartment, knocked and then kicked open the door. They found Graham in the bathroom, where, moments later, they shot him dead. A key witness to the shooting, Graham’s grandmother, Patricia Hartley, was allegedly taken into police custody, held against her will for several hours, and forced to give a statement about what happened.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly initially said Graham, quote, "appeared to be armed," but no weapon was ever recovered. Kelly also said they found marijuana in the home and think Graham may have been trying to flush some down the toilet when cornered by the cops.
This was the third time in a week that a member of the police had killed a suspect. The NYPD is coming under criticism not only for shooting Graham but also its broader stop-and-frisk policy, which critics say disproportionately targets people of color. On Monday, about 500 protesters rallied in the Bronx, New York, to condemn the police treatment of black youth. This is Jamel Mims of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
JAMEL MIMS: From the stop-and-frisk policy, where Ramarley was brutally targeted, ran up in his home, and shot point-blank, this is not about finding criminals. This is a system, which you are complicit in, that criminalizes youth that look like me. We are not criminals.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jamel Mims who’s leading that chant. He’s joining us in our studio right now, organizer with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, which is working to end the practice of "stop and frisk." Mims was arrested last October for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, along with Professor Cornel West and other activists, blocking the entrance to an NYPD precinct. He was again arrested in November in Queens for nonviolently blocking the entrance to the police precinct where Sean Bell was killed in a hail of police bullets five years earlier, near the place where he was killed.
We’re also joined by Nicholas Peart, who recently wrote a piece in the New York Times detailing his multiple experiences being stopped and frisked. The piece is called "Why Is the N.Y.P.D. After Me?" Nicholas Peart is a member of Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a community organization in Harlem. He is also serving as a witness in a federal class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights against the New York Police Department. The lawsuit challenges the New York police’s alleged practice of racially profiling and unconstitutional "stop and frisks." Last fall, a federal district court judge determined the case would be allowed to go to trial. The plaintiffs are seeking class certification.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Why don’t, Jamel, you lay out what happened to Ramarley?
JAMEL MIMS: OK. What happened to Ramarley—
AMY GOODMAN: What you understand.
JAMEL MIMS: Yeah. What happened to Ramarley is really a concentration of things that happen to black men and impoverished black and Latino youth every day in the city and all throughout the country. I mean, there are 600,000 "stop and frisks" per year. Eighty-five percent of the people who are stopped are black and Latino. Ninety-three percent of them are doing nothing wrong when they are stopped. And this is an instance that really concentrates so much of the brutality and force that the police use against this particular section of people.
I mean, what happened to Ramarley, again, you’re looking at what was the use of—the sanctioned use of lethal force for what was probably a legal amount of contraband that he was carrying on his person. And for this, he paid the ultimate price. I mean, there are, you know, 40,000 arrests on marijuana laws alone in New York City that were black and Latino youth. I mean, so what you’re really looking at is the front end of police brutality, with the stop-and-frisk policy and opportunities that arise like this 2,000 times per day. So, you know, you have an example with Ramarley Graham where it gets carried to that ultimate end, but this is a fate that, you know, every black and Latino youth is raised above their heads, that any one of them can meet.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Nicholas Peart, in your article in the New York Times, you talk about the fact that you’ve been subject to this "stop and frisk" on several occasions over the course of just a few years. Can you describe what happened?
NICHOLAS PEART: Well, the times I’ve been stopped and frisked has been for reasons of coming out of my building, going to the store, and—
AMY GOODMAN: How old were you the first time?
NICHOLAS PEART: The first time? I would say, I was—during my 18th birthday was the first time.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened, exactly?
NICHOLAS PEART: Well, I was celebrating my birthday, and I was at my sister’s house at 96th Street and Amsterdam. And me and my cousin and another friend, you know, we were in a median strip on Broadway. And all of a sudden, squad cars come out of nowhere with their guns drawn, telling us to get on the ground. And we had no idea what was happening. And the whole experience itself was devastating and dramatic.
AMY GOODMAN: What did they tell you to do?
NICHOLAS PEART: They told me to get on the ground. And they just searched me, my cousin and another friend.
AMY GOODMAN: They put guns to your head?
NICHOLAS PEART: Well, I was on the ground. It was towards my torso area, so...
AMY GOODMAN: And it was your birthday?
NICHOLAS PEART: Yes, it was my birthday.
AMY GOODMAN: And I read in the piece how the police officer noticed that on your driver’s license.
NICHOLAS PEART: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What did he say?
NICHOLAS PEART: "Happy birthday," afterwards, when he found nothing on us.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What’s the effect of this kind of thing? Because you mention in the piece that your friends—it’s obviously not an uncommon thing. What’s the effect of the stop-and-frisk policy, you know, on people in the neighborhood, other young men your age?
NICHOLAS PEART: Well, the effects of "stop and frisk," I believe, are—it’s damaging in the community. It further damages the relationship between the police and the community. And it makes neighborhoods more dangerous. It makes the job that the NYPD does more dangerous, when—you know, due to these illegal "stop and frisks" and aggressive behavior.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamel, can you describe your own experiences with "stop and frisk"?
JAMEL MIMS: Again, I come at this from the perspective of somebody who was kind of coached throughout their life and raised by their mother—as I’m sure, Nicholas, you were—that at a certain age, you’ve got to get—you get to a point where you suddenly become a threat to the police and that you have to kind of carry that in stride, and that there are ways that you have to respond to those types of situations. And, you know, I kind of came up doing all the right things, all the kind of correct things.
And, you know, there was one particular—you know, I’ve had escalating experiences with law enforcement growing up in Washington, D.C., as a young black male. I’m sure you can assume that growing up, you know, 14, 15, 16, 17, you know, every year, there’d be a kind of run-in with the police, a stop, a pullover. You know, they make you prostrate or put you on your knees and have you in the middle of the street in front of a hood—a squad car. These were kind of routine things. But one kind of escalated example that really was a flashpoint was after I received a Fulbright award to study sociology in China. And the summer before leaving, I actually was assaulted by Boston police, on exiting a party at night. And so, that was—that was kind of an experience, you know, that really summed things up. It’s like, you know, they don’t do background checks before they drag you into the street.
This isn’t a sort of thing that—and it really complements what is a systemic and altogether oppressive policy. I mean, this isn’t a thing that is one bad cop or a few individual cops, but instead, you’re looking at a systemic problem, like you guys said, you showed from the clip, that criminalizes youth and talks about that manner they dress and behavioral characteristics and criminalizes those. You’re dealing with a system that has no future and no options for youth, and thusly has to criminalize them.
AMY GOODMAN: And you almost lost your chance to get a Fulbright after that.
JAMEL MIMS: Right, right. I mean, there was a period where I had to kind of come to terms with the State Department. And they said, you know, "Oh, well, we get this record that, you know, you’ve been involved in a police incident, where we don’t really—you know, where we can’t jump out and defend you. We kind of need you to let us know what happened, so that you can go to China." Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, as an organizer, what is it that activists are calling for in the community? And what’s the police response been?
JAMEL MIMS: OK. Well, you know, simply and flat out, what our organization, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and the Stop Stop and Frisk Campaign, we’ve been engaged in a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience since October 21st, you know, going to precincts in Harlem, in Brownsville, where there are the most "stop and frisks" per capita in New York City, and also in Queens, you know, at the precinct that houses the murderers of Sean Bell. And flatly and simply, we’re calling for the—to drop this policy and to, you know, stop using it altogether. And, you know, that’s—you know, our demands, as far as that, have been very, very clear.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a comment of the Bronx DA. On Saturday afternoon, Ramarley Graham’s local community met with Bronx DA Robert Johnson and law enforcement. This is what Johnson had to say.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY ROBERT JOHNSON: What I told the community was just the outline of how we go about handling these cases, the fact that our presence is there from the day of the incident. We had assistant DAs there. They were there again yesterday. They’ve been briefing the chief of the homicide bureau.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamel, are you satisfied with the response?
JAMEL MIMS: Oh, I mean—
AMY GOODMAN: What are your demands?
JAMEL MIMS: I mean, not at all. What we’re in fact calling for is the—you know, altogether, the end of the system of mass incarceration. We’re looking at "stop and frisk," and our organization was brought into being from a call from Cornel West and Carl Dix, really talking about bringing the fight against the entire system of mass incarceration to the next level, and that would take, you know, incredible mass resistance. So—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What about the response, though, of the NYPD to Ramarley Graham’s killing? Is it different from previous incidents like this? Do you find it different at all?
JAMEL MIMS: No. I mean, they—you know, they’re coming with the same kind of—you know, framing the narrative again around danger and danger to the community, framing the narrative around safety, when this is really not a conversation about safety, it’s really not a conversation about, you know, drug usage or any kind of threat to the community. I mean, look, drug usage and drug offense rates across races are uniform. It’s fairly one to one. But when you look at the amount of people who are—the percentage of people, and percentage of African Americans and Latinos, particularly, who are arrested for drug laws, it’s like 90 percent. So, I mean, this isn’t a thing—and again, when you frame the conversation around safety, and that, you know, these are policies—you know, the stop-and-frisk policy continues to make things safe—
AMY GOODMAN: The story of Jateik Reed?
JAMEL MIMS: Jateik Reed, very quickly, who was, you know, beaten and assaulted by cops, again, up in the—
AMY GOODMAN: When?
JAMEL MIMS: —up in the Bronx. This was last week, on last Tuesday, I believe, last Tuesday or Wednesday, but early last week. But this all—again, this all fits in into a system of social control.
AMY GOODMAN: Nicholas Peart, when you wrote your piece, your op-ed piece in the New York Times about the constant pressure you feel and being stopped and frisked a number of times, what kind of response did you get? And I’m sorry, we only have 20 seconds.
NICHOLAS PEART: What kind of response I got from the article? Well, it was a great response. It was—I had a larger reaction than I anticipated. And, you know, I think—I’m glad that the topic is out there, and it’s bringing attention to, you know, an issue that I feel that should change.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel things are changing, Jamel?
JAMEL MIMS: I do. Already, you know, in the past few months—in past few weeks, even, since we began this campaign—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
JAMEL MIMS: —we’ve been having conversations that we haven’t—that we would not have had before.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Jamel Mims with us, as well as Nicholas Peart.