Saheed Vassell

Unarmed Jamaican Killed By New York City Cops

Brooklyn, New York

Saheed Vassell was well known in the community as a harmless individual with some mental problems; never seen with a gun, never hurting anyone, lived in the heavily Caribbean community for years. In the space of seconds, 10 bullets were fired into the body of Vassell. Witnesses at the scene said the officers did not say a word, they just started to fire immediately upon reaching the scene.

Vassell was shot in response to a 911 call, a police spokesman said, and matched the description given by the caller. The caller certainly was not threatened by Vassell; he was observing the playful Mr. Vassell on his daily rounds in his neighborhood.

The caller certainly was not familiar with the community and the people of the community, otherwise, he would have known of Vassell and the endearment the community has for him The call was clearly the result of gentrification, when people move into a community, and rather than seeking to assimilate in that community, want to control it.

The incident sparked outrage in the community with the cry of “Murder” by some bystanders. This has grown into a full -fledged protest demanding justice in light of the continued killing of black males by the police. Following the killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento three weeks ago, another unarmed black man was killed with shots in the back with a cell phone in his hand.

Ironically, the killing of Shaheed Vassell took place on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, a time when the work of the peacemaker Dr. King was being commemorated. The police arrived, not familiar with the neighborhood, not asking any questions, and took a man’s life – Just Like That!

The neighbors all know Vassell; he would dance on the street corner, did odd jobs to earn money, and was a caring father to his son. Every cop from the neighborhood knows Vassell, known him to be mentally ill and harmless and loved playing with toys.

Witnesses reported a plain clothes officer exited from the passenger seat and fired at Vassess several times. Shots seemed to be fired at the neck, chest and right arm. Even after Vassell fell, the officers continued to fire at him.

The officer and his two partners next went over and prodded Vassell with their service revolvers. They then handcuffed Vassell with blood pouring out of him. He was taken to Kings County Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

The police have released blurry still images from surveillance cameras, but no video. The officers were in plain clothes, so there are no body camera videos. Saheed Vassell was born in Jamaica and migrated to the US at age 6 to join his family in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in what was a welcoming Caribbean community of immigrants. There was some tension at the time with the Hasidic Jewish community, but relations improved over the years.

Vassell lived a very normal life in the community with an occasional run-in with the law as a teenager. But he was to eventually get a job, found romance and fathered a child.

Ironically, what set off Vassell’s mental situation was the killing of his closest friend (Ortanzo (ORTANZSO) Bovell by a policeman who shot him in the back. Bovell ‘s death shocked Vassell, and his family said he began talking to himself constantly. The family reached out for help and he was taken to a mental hospital. After the incident of his best friend’s death at the hands of the police, his family remarked – “After that, he was not the same person”.

A jury found the police who shot Vassell’s friend, guilty of intentionally shooting Mr. Bovell and the family was awarded $2.5 million dollars. Mr. Vassell never fully recovered from that shock. Eric Vassell, Shaheed’s father, keeps asking the question – “Why Did They Have To Just Kill Him”.

The community is asking the same question –“Why Did They Have To Just Kill Him?” They are awaiting and deserve an answer.