Hundreds of New Yorkers have rallied in protest of the police shooting of a man who was brandishing an object that officers thought was a gun.
The protesters lit candles and left flowers at the Thursday night vigil in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn where Saheed Vassell was shot seven to nine times after police say he crouched and pointed a metal pipe at responding officers.
The victim’s mother, Lorna Vassell, thanked the crowd and said her son “came from a good home.”
The protesters then marched to a nearby police precinct, shouting “no justice, no peace!”
Wednesday night’s shooting happened as officers were responding to 911 callers reporting a man pointing a gun at people.
Police say 34-year-old Saheed Vassell was killed around 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Four of the officers then fired a total of 10 rounds.
A tense crowd gathered after the shooting, with some people shouting at officers.
Chief of Department Terence Monahan says five officers responded after three 911 callers reported a man “pointing a silver firearm at people on the street.”
Monahan says Vassell “took a two-handed shooting stance” and “pointed an object at the approaching officers.”
Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio called the shooting a “tragedy” and said Vassell had “a profound mental health problem.”
Police seeking to quell simmering anger over their shooting of the mentally disturbed black man released a montage of security videos Thursday that showed him minutes earlier thrusting a metal object that looked like a gun into the faces of several people — including a woman holding the hand of her child.
“What we have seen from the images that are publicly available, people in the community thought he had a weapon and was aiming it at residents,” the mayor said. “That’s the kind of calls, multiple calls, that NYPD received.
According to the transcripts, one caller to 911 reported that Vassell “looks like he’s crazy but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun.”
“Where is the gun?” a dispatcher asked one caller. “His hand,” the caller replied.
In police radio traffic posted online, dispatchers directing officers to the scene said 911 callers were reporting only that a person was pointing a gun at people. After the shooting, the officers can be heard frantically calling for dispatchers to send an ambulance.
The release of the edited material on the New York Police Department’s Twitter account — the full videos and transcripts weren’t immediately provided — was meant to back up claims by the police department that the four plainclothes and two uniformed officers who responded had a legitimate reason to believe they needed to move swiftly to stop a deadly threat.
New video and 911 call transcript excerpts from yesterday’s police involved shooting in #Brooklyn. NYPD received several calls from neighborhood residents about a man pointing a gun at people on the street.— NYPD 71st Precinct (@NYPD71Pct) April 5, 2018
View yesterday’s remarks by @NYPDChiefofDept: https://t.co/Q2X4Q4AA5h pic.twitter.com/QN7cBVrzRW
The material released by the department didn’t answer questions about whether the officers had identified themselves or ordered the victim to drop the object before they opened fire. The city’s medical examiner found he was hit seven to nine times, including one shot to the head.
Vassell’s father, Eric, told reporters that his son had been hospitalized several times for psychiatric problems, some involving encounters with the police, but that he was polite and kind.
“Police had a choice. They always have a choice. They should not train them to kill. They should train them to protect life, to save life,” Eric Vassell said in an interview with WABC-TV.
On Thursday, Ruta Deshong, who owns a reggae record shop on the same block where Vassell lived, said she had known him since he was a young boy and that the police who normally patrol the neighborhood knew him well.
“If they had said, ‘Drop your weapon,’ he would have,” Deshong said. “The officers in the neighborhood know him. He’s all around the place. They know he’s not trouble.”
A family friend, Berrest Biggs, said he learned of the shooting through social media.
“I said, ’Is that Saheed?’” Biggs said. “He was like a child. ... This kid didn’t bother nobody.”
New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, announced that he would investigate the shooting.
Under an executive order issued by the governor in 2015, the attorney general has the power to act as a special prosecutor in cases involving police killings of unarmed people.
Schneiderman’s spokeswoman, Amy Spitalnick, promised “an independent, comprehensive and fair investigation.”
The shooting comes after the police killing of an unarmed black man on March 18 in Sacramento, California, sparked two weeks of protests and calls for police reform. Stephon Clark, 22, was shot by officers responding to a report of someone breaking car windows. Police said they thought he had a gun, but he was carrying only a cellphone.
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