Eric Schneiderman

US Congresswoman Welcomes Investigation In Killing of Jamaican

NEW YORK, United States (CMC) —

Caribbean-American Congresswoman Yvette D Clarke has welcomed the announcement by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that he will conduct an investigation into the police killing of a mentally ill Jamaican national on Wednesday.

Responding to 911 calls that a black man was pointing what appeared to be a silver gun at passers-by in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, officers from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) shot dead 34-year-old Saheed Vassell.

The NYPD said Vassell, who migrated from Jamaica when he was six years old, had pointed the instrument at five police officers, who responded to the 911 calls, before he was shot dead.

Police later said the instrument was actually a metal pipe with a knob on it. “By all accounts, Saheed Vassell was loved by his neighbours. He frequented local fruit stands and businesses in the Crown Heights neighbourhood and lived within two blocks of where he was gunned down.

“Though he suffered from mental health challenges, he was no criminal,” said Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents Crown Heights, among other neighbourhoods, in the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.

She told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that, “Saheed, like Dwayne Jeune of East Flatbush, and Erickson Brito of Brownsville….all suffered from an emotional disorder at the time of their deaths,” adding they should not have lost their lives.

“We must not accept the criminalisation of men and women suffering from mental illness as the status quo. The Crown Heights community expects law enforcement to protect and serve every person, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or health status.

It is well past time for mandatory cultural competency and mental health deescalation training for our officers.

I’m grateful to New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, for opening a formal investigation into the death of Saheed and trust that the investigation will be both thorough and transparent. My staff and I will monitor the Attorney General’s progress,” the US lawmaker said.

Clarke said she was looking forward to working with elected officials in ensuring that “the appropriate focus is given to addressing the mentally ill and their interactions with NYPD, and proper, clear and transparent protocols are in place to make sure that lethal force is used as a last resort when interacting with the mentally ill of our communities, so we can avoid losing another life to unnecessary violence.”New York State Senator, Jesse Hamilton, who also represents Crown Heights said a full investigation was also needed into Vassell’s shooting.

“As a society, we have to make the message ‘Black Lives Matter’ clear on our streets, clear to all charged with law enforcement, and up and down our justice system. We should demand sound policing, quality police work – the best training, decision making, and accountability from the men and women serving as police officers.

“Police accountability matters; only through accountability and mutual respect can we heal police-community relations, instil trust and build confidence. We need to take the steps across government, including police, including our justice system, and including people of good conscience, to protect all New Yorkers, Hamilton said.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said he had messaged Schneiderman thanking him for “opening an investigation into the police shooting.“Tragedies like this are why we fought for an independent Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit,” he said, adding “we must all pursue justice.”

Angry protesters Thursday evening held a vigil at the site where Vassell was gunned down, demanding justice in his shooting. Saheed’s mother, Lorna Vassell, said, at the vigil and protest, that her son came from a good family and that the police “have no right to shoot him down the way how they did it, because Saheed is no gunman”.