As Protests Sweep Country, New Video Shows Off-Duty NY Cop Fatally Shooting Black Man Delrawn Small

StoryJuly 11, 2016
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Roger Wareham

attorney representing Delrawn Small’s family. He is also a human rights activist.

Protests against police brutality erupted across the United States over the weekend, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets and blocking roads, bridges and highways in more than a dozen U.S. cities. Hundreds of people were arrested nationwide. The protests were sparked by the police killing of two African-American men last week—Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. But another recent police shooting has gone largely unnoticed by national media. On July 4, off-duty New York police officer Wayne Isaacs shot and killed Delrawn Small, an unarmed African-American man. Police officers initially claimed Small punched Officer Isaacs in the face following a driving confrontation. But surveillance video that has just been released counters that claim and instead shows the off-duty officer shooting Small within one second of Small approaching the vehicle. For more, we speak with Roger Wareham, the attorney representing Delrawn Small’s family.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Protests against police brutality erupted across the United States over the weekend, with tens of thousands taking to the streets and blocking roads, bridges, highways, in cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Rochester, New York. Hundreds were arrested nationwide, including more than a hundred in Baton Rouge, where two white police officers killed Alton Sterling, the African-American father of five, last Tuesday. In Minnesota, more than a hundred people were arrested Saturday night on Interstate 94 during a standoff with police, during which officers in riot gear threw smoke bombs and pepper spray. Protests have rocked Minnesota since a police officer shot and killed Philando Castile, another African-American man, shot during a traffic stop by an officer for a broken taillight.

While the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have sparked a recent wave of protests, we’re beginning today’s show looking at another police shooting from last week that has received far less national attention. Shortly after midnight on July 4th, an off-duty New York police officer shot and killed an unarmed African-American man from Brooklyn after a traffic incident. Police officials said the officer, Wayne Isaacs, opened fire using his police gun after the man, Delrawn Small, approached his vehicle and punched him in the face. But newly released surveillance video counters that claim. The grainy, black-and-white video shows the off-duty officer shooting Small as soon as he approached his vehicle. It does not appear to show Small punching Isaacs. Small then stumbles away and collapses on the street between two parked cars. Isaacs, the off-duty officer, then gets out of his car, appearing to tuck his gun into his waistband as he walks toward Small, surveys the scene, does not bend over to help him. He then returns to his car. Witnesses said the incident began when Isaacs cut off Small’s car. Delrawn Small’s girlfriend, their four-month-old son and her two daughters witnessed the shooting from the car. Last week, Delrawn Small’s brother, Victor Dempsey, spoke out at a candlelight vigil.

VICTOR DEMPSEY: You got that badge on, you do your job. You take that badge off, you still act like you got the badge on.

VIGIL PARTICIPANT 1: That’s right.

VIGIL PARTICIPANT 2: Exactly that. Where is the video? Where is the video?

VICTOR DEMPSEY: We ain’t trying to come out here and be violent. We’re not trying to do that. We’re asking for justice. It ain’t got nothing to do with y’all no more. It don’t. It already happened. But y’all go home after y’all shift. My brother ain’t coming back. And y’all human just like us. That’s why we’re out here doing this. And when y’all put those badges on, and y’all listen to y’all superiors, you act like you all forget who you all are.

VIGIL PARTICIPANT 3: Human, just like us.

VICTOR DEMPSEY: I’m not going to forget who my brother was. Y’all can say whatever the hell you all want about him. But we’re all out here because we know he was a good man. Look in these faces and tell them what you did. Look in our faces and tell us why you pulled that gun out and shot my brother. I don’t care if they said he punched him. I don’t care if he said he should have stayed in the car. I don’t care if he said he shouldn’t have been driving or he shouldn’t have been in Brooklyn. At the end of the day, he got shot by a cop for no reason.

AMY GOODMAN: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the shooting. In a statement released Friday, Schneiderman said, quote, "As Special Prosecutor, I am committed to conducting a full, fair and independent investigation of this tragedy, and will follow the facts and evidence—including this video evidence—wherever they lead. ... My heart goes out to the Small family during this painful period," the New York attorney general said. The New York Daily News reports the officer involved in the shooting, Wayne Isaacs, was accused in a 2014 lawsuit with a false arrest in which the suspect was, quote, "punched, kicked and struck several times in the head and body," unquote. The plaintiff also charged that one of the arresting cops called him the N-word before the case was settled for $20,000.

The New York Police Department did not respond to Democracy Now!'s requests for comment. But we are joined now by Delrawn—Delrawn Small's family’s lawyer, Roger Wareham, the attorney representing the family.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Roger.

ROGER WAREHAM: Good morning. Welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. So, why don’t you go through what you understand took place on Independence Day in New York?

ROGER WAREHAM: On Independence Day of all days. Delrawn and his girlfriend, Zaquanna Albert, were returning from a barbecue, and they were going up Atlantic Avenue, or down Atlantic Avenue, when this car cut them off, I think, at least twice. And when they came to a stoplight, Mr. Small got out and went up to the cop and said—well, he didn’t know it was a cop. He just went up to the person and said, "What are you doing? I have my family in this car." And that’s as far as it got. Then there were the three shots. And he was—you know, he hit the ground.

The video is very instructive in terms—it shows that the cop had no urgency around what was happening. You see him. He gets out the car. He’s very casual. He walks over. He looks down. As you said, he doesn’t even bend over to touch him to see if he’s—if he’s alive, and walks—strolls back to his car. So it’s a very—I think the video is very instructive in terms of just the cold-blooded nature of what happened, and that the cop’s attitude was this was nothing more than if I had stepped on an ant.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what took place afterwards? He did make a call, not clear to who?

ROGER WAREHAM: You know, it’s not clear. The state Attorney General’s Office has taken over the—you know, this prosecution or this investigation, depending, of course, on the New York City Police Department to collect the information, because it doesn’t have its own independent unit. We understand that supposedly a call was made. You know, the thing that stands out is, had this been a civilian who shot an unarmed civilian, whether he had a license for a gun or not, he would have been arrested. And to this day, there has been no arrest. And I think that’s the thing that stands out, that there’s a—always has been a double standard in terms of how the police are treated when they’re involved in the shooting of civilians, and that this is no different. It sends a—it sends a message to the police department that they are apart from the same rules that affect everybody else in society. And I think that’s one of the reasons that underlie the continuing protests.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I’m looking at yesterday’s New York Post, a very conservative paper in New York.


AMY GOODMAN: While the New York Daily News two days ago reported that Wayne Isaacs remains on active duty as the Schneiderman’s office investigates, the New York Post, which is the one that released the video—


AMY GOODMAN: —with the headline, "Sources: Video is Damning," and across the top, a headline says, "1 Second: Video is Damning." One second because that’s what it seemed to take for Delrawn to walk up to the car—

ROGER WAREHAM: To walk to the car, right.

AMY GOODMAN:—and him to be shot, basically blown away. It says, "The cop, who has since been placed on administrative leave"—don’t know.

ROGER WAREHAM: I don’t know. I don’t know whether that’s—whether that’s true or not.

AMY GOODMAN: And we couldn’t get the police to—

ROGER WAREHAM: I think the key question is not whether he’s been put on administrative leave. The key question is: He should be arrested. He should have been arrested, and he should be arrested at this point. You know, even—even before the video came out, he should have been arrested, because even if his story—his version of events were true, there was no justification for the use of lethal force. He says that Delrawn Small was punching him. He was sitting at the wheel of his car. He could have driven off. He could have rolled up the window. He could have done anything short of shooting Delrawn Small. What the video indicates is that he was lying when he said that, and that there was even less justification for what he did, but it was reflective of an attitude that "I can do anything I want in the black or Latino community, because I know from history that I’m not going to be punished for it."

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s very interesting, over the weekend, with everything that’s happened and the continuous showing of the video of Alton Sterling as well as Philando Castile, the stunning video of his girlfriend narrating his death as her hands are on the dashboard, with an officer with a gun pointed at her and her four-year-old daughter. In the case of New York, Chief Bratton has been interviewed. He was with Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, who was in New York this weekend. Today, CNN is interviewing Mayor de Blasio. But we don’t see questions about this case. I mean, the video is just shocking.

ROGER WAREHAM: Right. And it’s—I mean, New York—it’s like, before the video, it was as if—if there were no video, this didn’t happen. So, when they talked about the murders of black men during the week of July 4th, it was just these two and nothing around Delrawn Small, although it happened on the 4th of July, before the other ones, and initially there was some press coverage, at least in New York, around that. But it’s almost as if, if there is no video, there is no crime committed. Now that the video has surfaced, they’re not even—as you said, they’re not even addressing it. Bratton was on national TV all day yesterday and never mentioned that, "Oh, yeah, New York, we do have a problem, because we have an off-duty cop who, in cold-blood, had killed an unarmed man." And so, I think it’s—you know, they’re trying to do a spin on it.

AMY GOODMAN: This is New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton speaking Sunday, though, on Face the Nation.

COMMISSIONER BILL BRATTON: Police officers come from the community. We don’t bring them in from Mars; they come from the communities they police. And over the years, increasingly, we’ve had much more diversity in policing—Muslim officers, increasing numbers of African-American officers, Latino officers. And that’s a good thing, because the community wants to see that. And that’s part of the way we bridge the divide that currently exists between police and community, a divide that has been closing and a divide that we hope, over time—and certainly here in New York, I can speak for our efforts here the last several years, myself and Mayor de Blasio—to not only bridge the divide, but to close it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Police Commissioner Bratton.

ROGER WAREHAM: Yeah. And what he—and there’s a mythology that if you put more black bodies or black faces in the department, you’re going to get a—you’re going to bridge the divide between the community and the police department. And what it doesn’t deal with is that it’s not simply changing bodies or changing faces. You have to change the culture of the police department. And the culture of the police department, not only in New York City, but across the country, is one of white supremacy. It’s a culture that exists outside the police department, but is even more intensified within the police department.

And given how the criminal justice system deals with police officers who have committed crimes and committed murders—in almost no instances are they even arrested, much less indicted, prosecuted or, God forbid, go to jail—their behavior gets reinforced. They are like—they have a double-O in front of their—at the front of their shields, which is a license to kill. And if that culture isn’t addressed, you end up with the same result. In apartheid South Africa, there were black policemen who enforced apartheid laws against—in the townships. So, it wasn’t simply having a black person doing it, it was the culture. And it is the culture in the United States of the police department across the United States, which is why you find the disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos that are killed, people of color that are killed by the police, particularly black males.

AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Isaacs is African-American, the off-duty police officer?

ROGER WAREHAM: Right, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Delrawn Small was African-American.

ROGER WAREHAM: And Del, right, precisely.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how is his family coping right now?


AMY GOODMAN: His four-month-old in the car.

ROGER WAREHAM: His four-month-old was in the car. It’s—the family is coping, but, you know, black folks deal with tragedy. And I think the point one of the family members made—you know, I used to watch—we were at a press conference with Assemblyman—State Assemblyman Charles Barron. And she said—and I used to watch her on TV, and I would see you there with—but I never thought it would be me, that I would be standing here with you because someone in my family got killed. And I think that’s the lesson for—and that’s the lesson that black people take out, is that we’re born having committed a capital offense, which is breathing while black. And as the economic crisis in the United States worsens and people are looking for explanations for why their lives are getting worse, the fallback in this country has always been that it’s black folks’ fault.

And when you compound that with the militarization of the police department—you know, all the different weapons, the response you saw in Ferguson when the protests began—the militarization of the police departments across the country are not simply physical equipment, but it’s also a mentality of "I’m a member of an armed force, not just a paramilitary force, an armed force, and I’m approaching the enemy," and the black community is viewed as the enemy. So then you can get the type of response you see in that video with Delrawn Small, where the cop gets out of his car, just strolls over—there’s no urgency to it—looks down, walks away and strolls back, because I’ve just killed a member of the—I’ve killed an enemy force enemy—a member of the enemy force.

AMY GOODMAN: We were not able to get comment from the New York Police Department. Have you, on why Wayne Isaacs has not been arrested?

ROGER WAREHAM: No. No, we have not. And really, at this point, then it’s a question—it should be a question addressed to the New York state attorney general around why he hasn’t been arrested, because there’s no justification, based upon the video or even the reasons he gave for why he killed him.

AMY GOODMAN: Roger Wareham, I want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we’re going to continue to follow this story. Roger Wareham is the attorney representing Delrawn Small’s family, also a leading human rights activist here in New York City.

This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report As all of this is going on, the Freddie—the case of Freddie Gray’s death and the police officers involved in his death continues in Baltimore. We’re going to look at private van companies which transport tens of thousands of people, some who have not even been charged, across the country. Some of those people transported have died. What’s going on? We’re going to look at a major exposé. Stay with us.

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