By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, email@example.com
A Black man walked down a Brooklyn street on the evening of April 4, allegedly pointing a silver metal object at people.
Three callers dialed 911 reporting his actions. In response, officers shot that man – identified as Saheed Vassell – because they believed the metal object was a gun. After 10 shots to his body, Vassell now has been added to the ever growing list of Black men killed by police.
A photograph of the metal pipe Vassell was wielding as a gun. (AP Photo)
There’s been a mixture of outrage and defense in response to Vassell’s death. Protestors took to the streets for two nights, saying Vassell was a mentally disturbed man well-known to members of the community and that police should have known that and acted accordingly.
Eric Vassell, the victim’s father, told CNN that his 35-year-old son was a pleasant guy who struggled with bipolar disorder and, thus, did not have access to guns. In fact, Vassell was wielding the head of a welding torch—his father said he previously worked as a welder.
“He’s polite, nice, he’s kind. He just comes and he goes,” the older Vassell said.
New York officials, however, are defending the officers’ actions, implying their decisions made sense in the moment.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged that Vassell had a “profound mental health problem,” but said he imagined what could have played out if Vassell actually had a gun.
“If this individual with a loaded weapon, who for whatever reason, including a mental health challenge, was ready to use it, that’s a split-second matter of trying to save lives right then and there,” de Blasio said, according to CNN.
A photograph from the video where Saheed Vassell was pointing a metal object. The officers who fatally shot Vassell said they believed he was holding a gun. (AP Photo)
“How you get the full facts of what the person has in their hand, and what their mental health condition might be, and are they known to anyone, in something that’s playing out in seconds and minutes, that’s a very tall order,” the mayor reportedly added.
While Amy Spitalnick, spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said there will be an “independent, comprehensive and fair investigation,” NYPD on April 5 released video footage of Vassell wielding the metal pipe as if it were a gun and the transcripts of fearful callers in order to better unpack why they killed the mentally ill Black man.
“There is a guy in a brown jacket walking around pointing — I don’t know. (To someone else) What is he pointing in people’s face? They say it’s a gun; it’s silver,” said one caller.
In another 911 call, another caller reported: “There’s a guy walking around the street. He looks like he’s crazy, but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun and he’s like popping it as if…like if he’s pulling the trigger.”
Again, per the calls, de Blasio defended the officers.
“If that’s what officers were responding to in real time, we’ve got to recognize that if they believe they are dealing with an immediate matter of life and death to the people in the surrounding area,” he said. “That’s an exceedingly difficult, tense, split-second decision that has to be made.”
Even with NYPD’s explanation, there continues to be public fury over Vassell’s killing, particularly in light of the death of Stephon Clark and other unarmed Black men.
On April 5 in Crown Heights, residents of the neighborhood where the shooting occurred and where the victim lived held a vigil and protest in the honor of Vassell.