20,000 Sign Petition Demanding Answers From De Blasio about NYPD Killing of Vassell

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Eric Vassell, father of Saheed Vassell, delivers 20,000 petitions to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office at City Hall.

Nearly three months since officers of the New York Police Department ( NYPD) killed unarmed Saheed Vassell in Crown Heights, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization – Color Of Change – joined Vassell’s parents and local community organizations to deliver a petition signed by 20,000 people demanding transparency from Mayor de Blasio.

The petition calls for the de Blasio administration to stop withholding basic information about the officers who killed Vassell – their names, misconduct histories and unedited video footage of their actions before, during and after the killing – and explain why the militarized Strategic Response Group counterterrorism unit was deployed into the community, killing Vassell.

The 20,000 signatures, collected over the past several weeks by Color Of Change from New Yorkers who support the family’s demands, were delivered to Mayor de Blasio’s office in City Hall.

“It has now been over 11 weeks and the fact that Mayor de Blasio has failed to provide basic transparency around the killing of our son leads us to believe the worst – that this mayor and the NYPD are trying to cover-up something,” said Eric and Lorna Vassell, the parents of Saheed Vassell, said in a joint statement. “It is a measure of added cruelty that the de Blasio administration is wreaking on our family, over and above the killing of Saheed, by not providing basic answers. Why must we beg Mayor de Blasio to do the right thing after this city under his leadership is the one that committed the injustice of killing our unarmed son? We again plead with the mayor to require the NYPD to release the names, misconduct histories and full unedited video of the officers who killed Saheed. It shouldn’t take months and months of our having to come to City Hall with these demands to receive basic transparency from the government and police department our tax dollars support.”

Vassell was killed by NYPD officers in broad daylight in a hail of at least 10 bullets on April 4, the 50th anniversary Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Four out of five officers on the scene reportedly shot at Saheed immediately upon arriving and exiting their cars, similar to how 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police officers in Cleveland.

Some witnesses on the scene have said officers offered no warning or verbal commands before shooting and that there was nothing in Vassell’s hands at that moment he was shot, despite police accounts claiming otherwise.

“Saheed Vassell was killed by the NYPD over two months ago and we are no closer to receiving any form of justice for Saheed’s family,” said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color Of Change. “It is outrageous that we still do not know the names of the officers involved in Saheed’s murder and that full, unedited footage of the police’s actions has not been released. Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to hold the police accountable sets a dangerous precedent and continues to give the NYPD the freedom to attack our communities without fear of punishment. We continue to demand Mayor de Blasio take action on Saheed’s case, hold the NYPD accountable and end the deployment of the over-militarized Strategic Response Group in our communities.”

Instead of being transparent with the release of all relevant information, the NYPD engaged in a public relations campaign to influence initial public perception of Vassell’s killing. They placed all of the focus on Vassell, the victim of police violence, rather than officers’ actions, constructing and disseminating a self-serving narrative. They selectively released information, including doctored pictures and video.

They even unethically – and potentially unlawfully – leaked information about Vassell’s alleged summonses and criminal justice history. At the same time, the NYPD deflected attention from its officers’ actions in the incident, refusing to release the names, misconduct histories, and unedited video of the officers involved in the killing. 11 weeks later and the NYPD has still refused to release the names of officers, despite the fact that other cities routinely release such information in the aftermath of shootings within 72 hours.

“Yesterday marks eleven weeks since Saheed Vassell was killed and his family and community deserve answers,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, Chair of NYC Council Public Safety Committee. “We stand with CPR and the Vassell family to call for the release of all camera evidence and the release of names of all officers involved in the incident.”

Justice Committee Co-Director Loyda Colon said: “Why is it that the de Blasio administration still has not released the names of the officer who killed Saheed Vassell? Why were officers from a highly militarized, counter-terrorism unit among those who killed him? The fact that Saheed's family and the public do not have answers to these questions is part of a regressive trend of the de Blasio era to create more and more secrecy surrounding the practices and misconduct of the NYPD. We should all be asking, what is this administration and police department hiding from us? And we should all be terrified and enraged.”

Vassell’s killing was at least the fourth questionable NYPD killing of a Black or Latinx New Yorker in a 9 month-span; Dwayne Jeune, Miguel Richards and Mario Sanabria were the others.

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 impact the initial reporting and perception. They seek to justify officers’ actions and criminalize victims, rather than pursue the truth of the incident. Clear evidence of this was discovered in police documents turned over by court-order related to the 2012 killing of Ramarley Graham, documenting lies by officers in the immediate aftermath.

It was also discovered in the July 2014 killing of Eric Garner, in which officers lied about the use of force that killed him on their official police report. The public would likely have never known the truth about how Garner died if not for civilian video recorded of the incident. In the December 2017 NYPD killing of 69-year-old Mario Sanabria, it has been suggested by a witness – Sanabria’s brother-in-law and roommate – that the department may have advanced a false narrative about the victim wielding a machete before he was killed by officers who broke into the home.

Sanabria was killed in a raid prompted by an investigation unusually undertaken by the same militarized Strategic Response Group unit that was involved in shooting and killing Vassell along with officers from the NYPD anti-crime unit.

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