Photo of Kimani Gray and his younger sister is illuminated by candles at memorial, March 13, 2013. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Kimani Gray, a 16-year-old boy from the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., was gunned down by two plainclothes officers last Saturday night. According to official New York City Police Department reports, the officers on patrol approached Kimani when he separated himself from the group he was with and "adjusted his waistband" in "a suspicious manner." Police say that Kimani had a small revolver — though an eyewitness says the young boy had no weapon at all and was "running for his life."

Officers fired 11 shots, mortally wounding Kimani. The handgun, which police claim belonged to Kimani, had not been fired, and forensic reports confirming that the gun was actually in his possession have yet to be released. As such, Kimani's family and friends remain highly suspicious. "We were just hanging out," 15-year-old Akeem Brown, who was one of six friends with Kimani that night, told the New York Daily News. "We didn't know he had a gun."


The victim's sister, Mahnefah Gray, 19, told the New York Times that her brother had been fixing his belt when he was shot. As the teenager lay dying, another eyewitness, according to the Times, heard Kimani say, "Please don't let me die," to which one of the officers apparently responded, "Stay down or we'll shoot you again." The young teen had reportedly just returned from a baby shower, and his cousin Malik Vernon attests that he had never known Kimani to have a gun.

As the facts of this particular case continue to unfold, it remains to be seen whether Kimani will be added to the list of innocent young black males killed by the NYPD. Among the most noteworthy — but who hardly constitute an exhaustive list — of victims are Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Ramarley Graham. Diallo was shot at 41 times — 19 of which hit and killed him — in 1999 by four New York City police officers in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Diallo, 23, was unarmed and reaching for his wallet to provide identification. All four officers were acquitted of his murder.

Bell, 23, was killed by undercover NYPD officers in 2006, the night before his wedding day. Five officers fired 50 shots into a car as Bell and two of his friends left a strip club following his bachelor party. The officers claimed one of the men said, "Get my gun," but no guns were found.


Graham, an 18-year-old resident of the Bronx, was gunned down in the bathroom of his own apartment in 2012 after policed chased him, believing that he was in possession of drugs and a gun. Though a small amount of marijuana was found in the toilet bowl — suggesting that he ran fearing police would confiscate the drug — again, no weapon was discovered.

This is the America in which young black males live — always and everywhere suspected of violent crime, guilty before proved innocent. The NYPD has been quick to release information suggesting that Kimani had a criminal record. His past violations, according to police reports, include possession of stolen property and inciting a riot.

These are dubious infractions at best, especially considering that New York City's stop-and-frisk policy — which uses racial profiling of young black and Latino males as a fundamental tool of its operation — has given "criminal records" to many who would otherwise have not had any. Kimani, as a result, was not given the "benefit of the doubt," because societal norms — which frame all African-American males as suspects — treat (nonexistent) guns and (verifiable) Skittles candy as equally dangerous weaponry.

The NYPD aren't the lone culprits. Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old college student, was gunned down by police officers in Pasedena, Calif., last year after a falsified 911 call was placed. Officers suspected McDade of an armed robbery and shot him seven times, precipitating his death. McDade, in fact, had no weapon and was simply walking down the street before hearing police sirens. No one was charged in his death.

Ta-Nehisi Coates confronts this issue of racial profiling in a recent New York Times op-ed, explaining: "The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the 'middle class,' will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story."

Coates uses the recent stop-and-frisk of Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker at an Upper West Side deli as a prime example that black males are confronted with unreasonable prejudice regardless of their station in life. The arrest of Harvard professor (and editor-in-chief of The Root) Henry Louis Gates Jr. and violent death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin are further examples of innocent African-American males targeted for the color of their skin alone. And as Coates argues, the problem is more than skin-deep.


Kimani Gray's death is worrisome mostly because of the NYPD's dark history on matters of racial violence — leaving members of the community to wonder about the veracity of the department's version of events and to question if a gun was planted on the teenager to justify the shooting. Brooklyn residents, many of whom seek an end to the all-too-common violence experienced by black and brown people at the hands of New York's law-enforcement officers, have found a new martyr to give voice to an old cause and have taken to the streets to protest.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams addressed the deep-seated resentment at the heart of the demonstrations in a statement: "This action, which some are calling an uprising, was not about the details of one shooting; it spoke to the overwhelming frustration that people are living through day after day."

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.


Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.