In yet another tale of police brutality, a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager who was trying to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet in his Bronx apartment has today pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges.
Officer Richard Haste, 30 years old, the first member of the New York Police Department to face manslaughter charges since the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell, turned himself in and was arraigned at a Bronx criminal court on charges of first and second degree manslaughter over the killing of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham four months ago.
Haste, a four-year veteran of the force, was released on $50,000 bail. He faces a maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted.
On February 2, 2012, a team of officers assigned to the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, a precinct-level plainclothes squad, was watching a bodega suspected of being a drug market when Mr. Graham entered the store. The officers observed Mr. Graham fidgeting with his waistband and spotted what looked like the butt of a gun. This prompted one officer to warn his partners that the teen was armed, according to an account from New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly shortly after the incident.
Police Officer Haste Shot Unarmed Ramarley Graham
The Wall Street Journal describes what happened next:
When the officers identified themselves and ordered Mr. Graham not to move, the commissioner said the teen ran into his family’s nearby home on East 229th Street. The officers pursued, gaining entry to the three-family building after a neighbor let them in.
Guns out, the officers ran to the second floor and broke down the door. They spotted Mr. Graham down a hallway near the back of the apartment and saw the teen duck into the bathroom.
Officer Haste was so convinced Mr. Graham was armed that he yelled “gun, gun” before firing, according to Mr. Kelly’s account.
But Mr. Graham had no weapon. Police found a small bag of marijuana in the toilet. Officer Haste fired once at close range, striking Mr. Graham in the chest. The teen was pronounced dead at Montefiore Medical Center.
Yet Another Senseless Police Murder
Haste stood in court flanked by his attorneys and only spoke once to enter his not guilty plea. He left the courthouse to a mix of cheering police officers and angry protesters riled by the killing.
“NYPD, KKK, how many kids did you kill today?” the demonstrators chanted at Haste, who climbed into a waiting black sedan and drove off, reported The New York Daily News, which also wrote that the dead youth’s father, Frank Graham, wept in the courtroom with his wife Constance Malcolm and later broke down outside the courthouse.
Graham’s shooting inflamed an already tense relationship between New York City’s low-income communities of color and the NYPD, and prompted a review of the department’s street narcotics units.
Criticism Of Stop-And-Frisk Policy
The department is facing increasing criticism for its street-level policing practices, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Critics say its so-called stop-and-frisk policy – which last year resulted in nearly 700,000 encounters between police and citizens – has led to the criminalization of minority youth. As with every year over the past decade, the vast majority of those stopped were African American or Latino and nearly nine out of 10 had committed no crime.
As a result, the Department of Justice announced last week that it is reviewing the controversial policy, following demands by campaigners who say the tactic is unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.
If justice department officials decided to launch a federal investigation or to intervene in lawsuits that are already under way, it would deal a significant blow to a policy that has been championed by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police chief Ray Kelly.
And that at least would be a small step forward.
Photo Credit: Vanissa W. Chan