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)

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

 “We’ve heard Kimani was shot and that he was affiliated, so who would you believe was with him at the time? They probably weren’t Mr. Goody Two-Shoes,” McPhatter told The Root. “This is someone who is in the streets themselves and felt if they say something, then they could be murdered or set up for prison because they spoke against the police.”

Who Was Kimani Gray?

Kimarley Nunes, a cousin after whom Kimani was named and who grew up in the same household, told The Root that Kimani was a happy teenager living in tough circumstances. “Two years ago we lost his older brother, Gerard ‘Jamal’ Gray, to a car accident. Kiki’s mother used to work at a restaurant, but after Jamal died, it all went downhill. His death messed her up completely,” he says. “They lost their apartment and had to go through the shelter situation. Then they, including Kiki’s five siblings, lived with my uncle in a one-room place.

“Losing Jamal was big because after my aunt and Kiki’s father separated about five years ago, he became the family’s father figure,” Nunes continued. “Then, four days before Kiki died, my aunt [Kimani’s mom] was just getting back on her feet with a new apartment, and this happens.”

Matt Willoughby, Kimani’s high school principal at Manhattan’s Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction, released a letter in support of the teen’s character, writing, “Kimani made great strides this year academically. He was taking an extra English class after school; he was writing a dramatic dialogue in another English class; his group in Design class was working on a project to design a school. Now they are working to complete their project without him.”

Elie says that when Willoughby attempted to attend the press conference held by Kimani’s mother, his superiors wouldn’t allow it. Calls to Willoughby for confirmation were not returned at press time.

In addition to being described by family as a regular teen who liked to dress well and talk about girls, Kimani had been arrested four times for charges that included larceny. The officers involved in the shooting — Sgt. Mourad Mourad and Officer Jovaniel Cordova — have had their own problems, boasting five civil rights lawsuits between them for falsified arrests and illegal searches and costing the city of New York $215,000 in settlements. Calls to the community-affairs office at East Flatbush’s 67th Precinct for comment were not returned.

The History of East Flatbush and the Police

In the largely West Indian community, the relationship with the police is guarded and informed by history. In 1997 Abner Louima was sexually assaulted with a broom at the 70th Precinct, and last year, unarmed 23-year-old Shantel Davis was shot and killed while trying to escape plainclothes officers in a car that was reported stolen. In New York City at large, the cases of Amadou Diallo, who was killed in the Bronx in 1999 when police mistook his wallet for a gun; Patrick Dorismond, killed by undercover officers after a heated exchange; and Ramarley Graham, fatally shot last year in his grandmother’s Bronx apartment after police entered without a warrant, also make locals skeptical of cops.

The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which overwhelmingly targets blacks and Latinos, hasn’t helped.