At City Hall rally, families recount stories of Black relatives killed by police

Hundreds of people gathered outside Brooklyn Borough Hall and City Hall on June 9 to protest police killings and support families of Black people killed by police.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Families of Black New Yorkers killed by police shared their stories at a rally near City Hall on Tuesday, expressing outrage at city prosecutors for allegedly failing to bring justice to their loved ones’ deaths. 

“We are tired, we are fed up, and we’re not going to take it anymore,” said Natasha Duncan, whose sister, Shantel Davis, was fatally shot by a police officer in 2012. 

The “Rise Up with the Families” demonstration — organized by families who’ve lost loved to police who are members of an advocacy group called the Justice Committee — drew hundreds of protesters to the park outside City Hall to hear the relatives of Delrawn Small, Sean Bell, Ramarely Graham, Kimani Gray, and others talk about their loved ones’ deaths at the hands of police.

Duncan, one of the first speakers, described how police officer Phil Atkins shot her 23-year-old sister in East Flatbush eight years ago. Atkins, who was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police car, stopped Davis after she allegedly ran several red lights and crashed into another car, the New York Times reported. Atkins approached Davis’ car with his gun drawn and reached through the window to shift her car into park when “the gun discharged one time,” the police commissioner at the time told the Times.

Duncan said that the family pushed relentlessly for the Brooklyn District Attorney to prosecute Atkins, who was placed on desk duty after the shooting, but heard nothing from then-District Attorney Charles Hynes, or his successor, Ken Thompson. Duncan said she met with current District Attorney Eric Gonzalez about the shooting in about 2018, but he told her the statute of limitations for prosecuting the case had passed.

“In that meeting with Gonzalez, he said to my family, ‘This should have never happened to your sister. But unfortunately, the statute of limitations has expired,'” Duncan said. New York’s statute of limitations in manslaughter cases is five years.

Following Duncan and a few other speakers, Hawah Bah, the mother a Mohamed Bah — a Black taxi driver who was killed by police in 2012 — took the stage.

Officers rushed to Mohamed’s Harlem apartment in September of 2012 after his mother called 911 saying that the 28-year-old was acting erratically, the police chief said at the time. Bah told the crowd Wednesday that she called 911 to get him an ambulance — not for police to respond.

“I called an ambulance, I never called police,” said Hawa, who is from West Africa. “Before the ambulance, police arrived. I told them, ‘I don’t call you, go away.’ They never listen to me, they come like they’re going to fight war because they see [a] Black woman with her Black son.”

Hawa said that she and other relatives were ushered out of the apartment, after which officers said they found Bah holding a 13-inch knife, and Detective Edwin Mateo shot him multiple times, the Daily News reported. Mateo originally said that Mohamed had tried to stab him, but later admitted that wasn’t true. His mother was awarded $2.2 million after a jury determined Mateo used excessive force in a 2017 lawsuit, but neither Mateo nor the other officers faced criminal charges.

“It has to stop,” Hawa said. “We [have to hold] every criminal cop liable. They have to face lifetime jail and cut their pension.” 

The “Rise Up with the Families” demonstration came after hundreds of protesters converged on Brooklyn Borough Hall, where Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and other elected officials called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to slash the NYPD’s budget.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams organized a rally outside Brooklyn Borough Hall and a silent march to honor Black people who have been killed by police.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“We need you to cut a billion dollars from budget of the police. And that’s just a start,” he told the crowd. “Stop giving us platitudes, man, we need real change.” 

Williams and the protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in silence to honor the victims of police violence before arriving at City Hall for the families’ rally, where attendees chanted in solidarity with the victims’ relatives.

“No justice, no peace!” the families and attendees repeatedly chanted together. 

Hundreds of people marched over the Brooklyn Bridge on June 9 in a silent march for Black lives.Photo by Paul Frangipane

The demonstration was one of many Black Lives Matter protests that continue to sweep the city in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. The ongoing protests, some of which have led to violent encounters with the police, have pushed for the city to cut the NYPD’s budget and repeal 50-a, a law that shields police officers’ records from the public. The state senate and legislature voted to repeal 50-a on June 9.