Why Cops, Community Are at Odds in Brooklyn

Kimani Gray's death sparked outrage built on years of tension. But is it possible to heal?

Demonstrator Fatimah Shakur at Kimani Gray protest, March 13; NYPD patrol at protest (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Demonstrator Fatimah Shakur at Kimani Gray protest, March 13; NYPD patrol at protest (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

(The Root) — It’s 9:30 p.m. on Friday, March 15, in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a gaggle of people have gathered at East 55th Street and Church Avenue to remember Kimani “Kiki” Gray and protest his death. NYPD cars and paddy wagons line Church Avenue and color the heavily West Indian neighborhood with their flashing lights.

Last Monday and Wednesday, the area was a jumping-off point for more than 100 livid protesters who marched while some broke into a Rite Aid drugstore, putting one man in the hospital. On Friday, police officers dressed in riot gear stand at key points, including two positioned on a roof above the intersection, as protesters chant, “Stop killer cops!”

“They cut school programs and hire more cops; something’s wrong with that picture. You’re setting us up to fail so we can be stopped and frisked or maybe shot,” Randy Sidberry, a protester, told The Root. “I’m out here because that’s not happening to my kids.”

Heavy policing in black communities isn’t new; however, the residual relationship that this dynamic creates in each community of color is regional. In New York, there’s a history of police brutality as well as gang and crew-led violence that sometimes makes locals wary of one another but uncomfortable asking the police for help. The death of Kimani only sparked those tensions burning beneath the surface, so how can a community mend its relationship with those policing their streets?

The Shooting of Kimani Gray

On March 9, 16-year-old Kimani was shot seven times by two plainclothes police officers on Brooklyn’s East 52nd Street and Tilden Avenue after leaving a party. A .38 revolver was found on the scene, and police say that Kimani pointed the loaded weapon at the officers, after which they fired. The report from the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, released last Wednesday, shows that Kimani was shot three times in the back.

One eyewitness, Tishana King, told the Daily News that she saw the incident from her window, and the teen had no gun. Yet a police spokesman said that when King was interviewed after the incident, she relayed that she couldn’t see what the boys were doing “from the angle I was at.”

Another witness told Kimani’s sister, Mahnefah Gray, that the teen was merely adjusting his waistband. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said last week that the police had interviewed several witnesses who said they heard the officers say, “Don’t move” and “Freeze,” but Wendy Elie, a friend of Kimani’s family, said that cops have threatened the late teen’s friends against coming forward.

“There are other witnesses, but the same officer with the gun waved it around, yelling, ‘Get the f–k out of here, move out of here,’ ” Elie told The Root.

The police described the 16-year-old as a member of the Bloods gang. Shanduke McPhatter, head of the community organization Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes and formerly an active member of the Bloods, said that while he didn’t know Kimani, he is familiar with the teen’s circle, and Elie’s assertion isn’t uncommon.