One Week after Killing of Saheed Vassell, His Family, Other Families of New Yorkers Killed by NYPD & Community Members Demand Transparency from de Blasio/NYPD

Group demanded de Blasio administration end NYPD’s propaganda campaign to justify killing and fake transparency, called for real transparency through release of information

Community members also called for mayor and NYPD to stop misleading public by giving false reasons on why they won’t release information on officers

A week after the killing of Saheed Vassell by NYPD officers in Brooklyn, Vassell’s family was joined by the family members of other New Yorkers killed by NYPD officers and community members to demand real transparency from Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD. They condemned the efforts by the de Blasio administration and NYPD over the past week to engage in a campaign to justify the killing by criminalizing Vassell and focusing public attention on him, rather than provide transparency about the actions of the officers who shot and killed him. The family demanded full transparency from Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD about Saheed’s killing and full accountability for officers’ actions.

“Saheed should still be with us, but instead he was stolen from us by NYPD officers who killed him in a hail of at least 10 bullets in broad daylight, wrongly claiming he had a gun when he did not,” said Lorna and Eric Vassell, Saheed Vassell’s parents. “Instead of the city being transparent and pursuing the truth, the de Blasio administration and NYPD have been engaged in a propaganda campaign that is trying to justify killing Saheed, placing all of the focus on him even though he was the victim and he can no longer speak for himself. It is shameful and Mayor de Blasio must put it to an end, and commit to the city government that our tax dollars fund being transparent about why and how my son was killed. The real questions and focus should be on the officers who appeared to hop out of their cars and immediately started shooting at Saheed. We are demanding that Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD release the names of the officers involved in this killing, their misconduct histories and outcomes, as well as all video of officers’ actions immediately before, during and after the killing. It cannot be okay for officers to simply kill New Yorkers based on false claims and assumptions. We need answers, justice and accountability for the killing of our son, and that is not possible without the de Blasio administration committing to real transparency and ending its scam of selective releases and edited videos that we’ve seen so far.”

Specifically, the family and supporters demanded the following answers and information be released to the public:

  • The identities of all the officers involved in the killing of Vassell and on the initial scene must be disclosed.
  • The NYPD must release information pertaining to these officers’ histories of misconduct, including a summary of complaints against the officers and the disposition and outcome for past claims.
  • All unedited surveillance video camera footage showing the officers’ actions immediately prior, during and after the shooting and killing of Saheed Vassell should be released.
  • A public explanation for why officers from the hyper-militarized Strategic Response Group (SRG) were deployed must be provided, as well as an explanation for why Neighborhood Coordination officers were not alerted immediately to respond when the SRG and hyper-aggressive anti-crime units were alerted.

The administration and NYPD withholding the names of officers involved in killings of civilians is unacceptable, and deepens mistrust in the department and the process. Other police departments around the country do not engage in such secrecy, and no other city agency is routinely allowed to employ substandard government transparency practices that withhold such basic information. The release of whether the officers who killed Saheed had a history of misconduct and brutality is highly relevant, because it is common that officers who kill civilians often have prior histories of misconduct that if they were held meaningfully accountable for, may have prevented them from subsequently killing a civilian.

Over 50 organizations also sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner O’Neill on Thursday urging them to ensure real transparency by releasing the information. The letter can be found here:

“An unmarked car pulled up in the middle of the day and both plainclothes and uniformed officers jumped out and shot Saheed Vassell in cold blood – this was a hit on a member of our community” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform and Deputy Director of the Brooklyn Movement Center. “Mayor de Blasio is responsible for the NYPD’s inappropriate propaganda campaign against Saheed Vassell that has sought to criminalize and focus on him, the victim of police violence, instead of the actions of NYPD officers who killed him. What the de Blasio administration’s NYPD is doing is not transparency or accountability. It’s time for the mayor to put an end to this sham and ensure both transparency and accountability related to this killing. He must require the NYPD to be truly transparent, releasing the names of the officers involved in this killing and information on any history of misconduct they may have, all footage of officers’ actions immediately before, during and after the killing, and provide public explanation of the Strategic Response Group and anti-crime unit’s notifications and roles versus that of Neighborhood Coordination Officers.”

Since NYPD killed Vassell, the NYPD has engaged in a non-stop public relations and propaganda campaign that has placed all of the focus and blame on Vassell, the victim, rather than officers’ actions. The police department has sought to construct a self-serving narrative that influences public perception of the killing by unethically leaking information about his alleged summonses and criminal justice history and selectively releasing edited pictures and video, among other information. At the same time, the NYPD has deflected attention from its officers’ actions in the incident, refusing to release the names of officers involved and only releasing some video of officers’ actions on Tuesday afternoon after the media and public began questioning its selective release of information.

Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD have even misled the media and public about why they have not released information on the officers, attributing it to the investigation by the New York Attorney General. A spokesperson for the Attorney General discredited these claims by the mayor and NYPD on Tuesday to the New York Times. This lack of integrity and transparency in the aftermath of NYPD killing a civilian is unacceptable, and rightfully exacerbates mistrust in government and the police department and processes for accountability.

Loyda Colon, Justice Committee Co-Director stated: “As an organization that has been supporting families whose loved ones were killed by NYPD for over 3 decades, we find the NYPD and de Blasio administration's immediate attempts to criminalize Saheed Vassell enraging, yet unsurprising and unoriginal. Mayor de Blasio is following the playbook of his predecessors, backing the NYPD as they use lies, edited and incomplete footage, and de-contextualized information about the victim to justify the killing. We are calling for an end to this smoke and mirrors PR campaign, which constitutes on-going violence against Saheed and his family. We demand true transparency, which means releasing the names and disciplinary histories of all officers involved and all unedited footage of the incident.”

It is all too common in the aftermath of police killings and brutality for the NYPD, and police departments more broadly, to engage in efforts to justify officers’ actions rather than pursue the truth of the incident. Clear evidence of this was discovered recently in police documents turned over by court-order related to the 2012 killing of Ramarley Graham, documenting lies by officers in the immediate aftermath. Despite clear evidence that officers lied about that incident in initial paperwork, no officers were held accountable for such misconduct. The systemic lack of accountability for NYPD officers’ lying in court, in official records and to prosecutors has also been recently documented by BuzzFeed, the New York Daily News (and here), and The New York Times.

Kylynn Grier of Girls for Gender Equity said: “Saheed’s tragic death is located in a landscape of state sanctioned violence rooted in white supremacy. The New York Police Department only furthers this violence through dismissive, non-transparent PR campaigns that discount the loss Saheed’s family and the Crown Heights community are experiencing. The NYPD has never demonstrated systemic, compassionate care for people of color, including women and people of trans and/or gender non-conforming experience. Saheed’s death was wrong and, at minimum, we all deserve to know which officers killed him.”

In the more than four years of Mayor de Blasio’s tenure, at least 15 New Yorkers have been killed by the police under questionable or unjust circumstances. At least 11 New Yorkers in emotional distress have been killed by the NYPD in the same period, despite the de Blasio administration touting the success of its mental health initiative. Vassell is at least the fourth New Yorker killed by the NYPD in the last nine months.

“Mayor de Blasio can no longer cast blame on past administrations for the at least 4 police killings of Black and Latinx civilians in the last 9 months, nor the at least 15 police killings of civilians during his four years as mayor,” continued Anthonine Pierre. “These killings, inappropriate conduct by the NYPD in their aftermath, and lack of transparency and accountability will continue unless the de Blasio administration stops perpetuating the status quo, and actually gets serious about action on this issue instead of just paying hollow lip service.”


About Communities United for Police Reform

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.

CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.

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