Militarized local cop in tank aiming automatic rifle at a rolled-down gate just an hour after the sun rose.
Sunset Park and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y., America
This was some week in Kings County (that’s Brooklyn to all those only familiar with the brand) for high profile encompassing police activity.
It all started early Saturday morning in Sunset Park last week when 5 men ganged up on another man on the street and one of the perpetrators hit the victim with his gun. The goons ran into a motorcycle club with beat cops on pursuit and hid out there amongst revelers as a party was still raging from the night before.
As the suspects refused to come out, the NYPD came back with a warrant and extra backup to dredge them out. Which is actually understating it, because they came with a virtual army.
(Photos by Theodore Presirienne, NY Daily News)
In what looks like a real-time embedded report by the NY Daily News, the militaristic deployment of local cops dressed in helmets, shields and toting automatic rifles which usually shows a presence at major transit hubs, parades and civil assembly protests crashed the party and emptied out the club of everyone inside and detained the suspects,who actually came out by themselves and surrendered, as they scared the shit out of the citizenry in the vicinity in a scene that looked like it was raid of a suspected hideout of a terrorist group in Fallujah or Gaza or a invasion by President Assad’s own armed forces in a town he would consider gassing in Syria.
Residents including students on spring break in nearby apartment buildings with views of the dramatic raid were told by the cops to stay away from their windows when they were about to film it on their phones, supposedly for their safety in case there was a shootout. Which makes no goddamn sense considering the ratio of firepower the militia outside was packing to the single gun the thugs used to bash a guy. The suspects eventually came out and surrendered and managed to get everyone inside detained and held in a paddy wagon for hours for their little street crime.
What gives this a high level of intrigue, especially considering that people were being discouraged/ordered by the cops not to film the “standoff”, is how the story was published by Tronc on the Daily News website and the city’s hometown newspaper.
Although the digital version has the complete story, the print edition just went with a photo montage and a eerily positive headline:
The online story also underplayed the role the militarized cops from the Emergency Services Division as the print version shows the presence of a armored personnel carrier, or what is more commonly known as a tank.
What the hell is this cop aiming at anyway? There has to be a wider resolution picture that this derived from. And what the fuck is a tank doing there on a local street in Brooklyn that you would normally see in NY Times international section of military incursions in a local town in Syria or Yemen. And again, what the fuck is a tank with a cop pointing his rifle at a steel roll down gated storefront when there were snipers on the roofs of buildings where people lived who were told not to film anything. The same can be asked for this grandiose and pointless use of military hardware and ordinance for a what is basically a typical arrest attempt of a group of hoodlums. Unless the point is to show dominance and intimidation to the citizenry to accept a misleading sense of security and safety and a disturbing and risky new method to detain suspected criminals. Clearly the only people who were endangering the public weren’t only the thugs hiding out in some dank club for a few hours but the excessive frightening display of a militarized police force that looked like they were about to throw a coup against a dictator.
The potential for someone getting hit in the crossfire in the chance of any of these weapons being utilized in a dense local area is not being considered at all by N.Y.’s finest, mostly from the orders of the high brass in the precinct in that area or even from One Police Plaza (eh, Commissioner?).
Well, it’s fortunate it didn’t come to that. This time. Since the raid was confirmed to have come to a peaceful end.
Not so peaceful is the fact that there is absolutely no footage from the militaristic raid, when everything these days is instagrammed, facebooked and twittered by the public.
After this raid reached it’s peaceful end, it might have been safe to assume that some cops might stick around and canvas the area for the rest of the day to protect the public from other street fights or any other random criminal act or more likely to deter sexual assaults since reported rapes are up 25% in the city (no thanks to Harvey Weinstein). But somehow later in the evening there were no cops available by a karaoke club in Sunset Park, where a man inside was stabbed three times in the chest and died after he hailed a cab to take him to a hospital.
But this contradictory coverage of this raid pales in comparison as the vertical integration of journalism imposed by the police reached a nadir a few days later.
In Crown Heights, a man named Saheed Vassell was roaming around the streets holding a metal object pretending to shoot at people. He stopped at a corner in front of a fruit market when 3 patrol vehicles rolled up after 3 911 calls were placed. 5 cops, three plain clothes and two in uniform came out and immediately fired as they exited their cars after Vassal raised his arms holding the object. In less than 10 seconds, 4 of the cops shot him 10 times, 9 bullets hitting vital organs, instantly killing him as he bled on the concrete.
The metal object was a disassembled welding torch.
Video footage of Vassal of menacing passerby from store and street cameras was released by the NYPD a day after the shooting interspersed with dictated 911 calls (it’s swift release which CBS News website found to be unusual) . The video has no audio, making it impossible to determine the reactions of the callers or the operators.
A lot has been written more about Vassell than the 5 cops who showed up and gunned him down. Saheed was a former welder suffering from bipolar disorder, he lived with his family in a two-bedroom apartment and was well-known and beloved by the community there who knew about his mental condition but did not consider him threatening, had a friend who was shot dead by a cop as he tried to steal a car, he had 23 prior arrests.
But as for the 5 cops who gunned him down, no info at all but what the NYPD chose to release. Particularly the alleged fact proffered that the 5 cops assigned to the scene that they never shot at anyone before on duty, have all served on the force for about 6 years (all of them?) and the racial makeup of the officers were two white men, two black men and a southeast Asian man, this being the most specifically transparent of all the information the NYPD released so far. All of the cops were not equipped with body cams. The three plainclothes cops come from the anti-terror and anti-crime units. After shooting him down, the cops cuffed him.
Video footage of when the actual shooting took place was released just a day ago in the NY Post five days after the initial video above showing people running from the scene of the incident and a group of men walking towards Vassell across the street. The video like the others has no audio.
When Saheed’s father went to Kings County hospital to see his son in the medical examirer’s lab, he was turned away by “officials” there, refusing to let him see his son’s body.
The NY Post assisted the NYPD’s narrative by taking witnesses claims of Vassal as unhinged and terrorizing citizens before the shooting and a story in the NY Daily News describing one witness opinion that it was a clean shoot. The shooting went down less than 10 seconds, during that brief period according to the NYPD, cops exited their vehicles and ordered Vassell to drop it 3 times, Vassell aim his object and the cops shot him down. Although CBSNY interviewed two witnesses that claimed no one said a word or even a warning that they were cops, which runs counter to the alleged claims of the NYPD’s source, also an unnamed cop, being that they will not release the names of the officers who fired the shots making it difficult to determine who actually gave the warning since no one knows who these cops are.
In the NY Daily News another witness who also never heard any verbal warnings from the cops described the swift reaction to the shooting by describing it as a hit. But judging how quick the cops were to shoot and how precise their shots were to bring him down (with the exception of one bullet that missed and hit a chicken restaurant nearby) and the fact (of the few available) that three of the cops came from special divisions conveys that it was something that the CIA would pull on a suspected terrorist or a foreign adversary. Which makes this incident just as similar and frightening as the militarized police deployment in Sunset Park.
Even though this has shooting has ignited outrage from the community in Crown Heights, the NYPD has meticulously macro-managed the incident. Even though it’s being covered in the daily papers, it has barely made news on television. (And for some reason, it has not been covered by progressive news sources like The Young Turks, as their youtube channel has not made any videos discussing this tragic and preventable shooting even though they have been meticulous in covering every story regarding excessive police force throughout the nation.)
Press conferences following the shooting from NYPD brass have been startling, starting with cop still calling what Vassell was holding a gun even after it was verified it was a piece of junk. Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce stressed how the cops did not have time for other options so they had to fire giving the immediate threat of Vassal’s stance. Even Mayor de Blasio, who was quick to the punch to prosecute a cop for firing his gun and killing Deborah Danner in her apartment when she swung a bat at him, defended this erasatz professional street killing by citing the split second decision the cops assigned there had to make.
Which flies in the face of the neighborhood policing campaign the city has been promoting for the last month. Vassell was a familiar fixture in the neighborhood and everyone knew he was mentally ill but not a consistent threat. Vassell was also well known by the cops in the precinct there so why the necessity to send undercover cops in unmarked vehicles instead of utilizing the neighborhood policing policy and sending precinct cops instead. (Maybe the two uniformed officers were from the precinct covering that area? Everyone is going to have to wait for that.)
And if there was only a split second to predetermine that Vassell was a danger to citizens and to the cops who rolled up, why couldn’t they take another second to determine that he was wielding a piece of junk so to avoid a tragedy and endangering the citizens and children around there? Considering that even in those 911 transcripts that no shots were fired and people couldn’t tell it was a weapon. Or maybe take another second to utilize a pair of binoculars to see what Vassal was actually holding. Because what he was pointing at them with was garbage. It didn’t have a trigger or a handle to grip on.
Apparently what was utilized instead was the precision policing program that is normally used to neutralize gang violence and gun dealing on one disturbed individual.
And what about those 911 calls. In every heavily publicized policing incident, the audio is readily available. The rationale for not disclosing these calls equally makes no sense and is open to interpretation and cynical suspicion. Is it to prevent people from telling what races the callers are? Being that Crown Heights has seen a rising racial makeup change because of rapid gentrification in the town. But why should that matter because these three callers were only worried about the safety of the people on the street at the time. How are could they or more particularly their voices be culpable for the death of Saheed?
Despite constant reassurances from high brass and our mayor, Vassal’s family and the people of Crown Heights as well as every other citizen demanding answers and full accountability and full transparency are being undermined by the machinations of the NYPD of what is ostensibly to build their case to justify the shooting as the investigation by the A.G. is in it’s nascent stage. As all the conflating descriptions of the shooting by the anonymous cops is set to assure their acquittal or even file a case against them at all.
If there are conflations to be made relevant to this killing of an innocent though mentally disturbed man, the manufactured justification for it to go with the media manipulation of the evidence and the coverage, look no further than any of the shootings resulting from excessive force in the midst of an arrest or an escalation during a routine stop or suspicion in the widespread publicized killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castle, Tamir Rice and Ramarley Graham, whose mother joined the Vassal family in solidarity to protest in front of City Hall on Friday.
And in eerily similar cases last March when Stephon Clark was gunned down in his grandmother’s backyard in a fusillade of bullets and also handcuffed as he bled out on the grass and Danny Ray Thomas, a mentally disturbed man who was shot to death by a cop after he approached him with his pants down to his ankles.
It’s like there’s a proclivity to shoot immediately under the slightest perceived or arbitrary threat. It might not only be from lack of training to handle situations with mentally disturbed people but from a pragmatic policy. Because video footage from 12 years ago surfaced last week of a sheriff who’s running for re-election was asking and answering a rhetorical question on a hot mic to reporter on how it’s more frugal for government finances to kill a suspect than it is to wound them.
“When a deputy shoots somebody, which way is better financially? To cripple them or kill them for the county?”
“Kill them?” someone off camera asks before Youngblood answers “Absolutely.”
“Because if you cripple them you have to take care of them for life and that cost goes way up,” he said.
Since we don’t know anything currently about the cops who shot down Vassel on a street corner in cold blood, something like this theory this asshole sheriff blathered out loud 12 years ago could be kind of an open secret or unofficial policy to enact swift lethal justice on people deemed to be expendable.
But for now we all have to wait till the investigation is final to know the intentions and names of the four cops and even for the entire footage that the NYPD has released in scant selective drips. This media whitewashing of the killing just might be under the influence and gamesmanship of recently appointed NYPD spokesman Phil Walszak, whose previous duties were to make de Blasio look good and act as an editor-in-chief to the press by demanding of them to only ask questions only about the topic the Mayor was discussing or interested in. His presence and the city’s (current) exploitation of the 50-a civil rights law protecting criminally incompetent and corrupt cops from the public’s demands of prior offenses while on and off the job.
Despite all the care being utilized to mollify the public of these situations, which is being met with hardened cynicism considering recent history and the fact that the handling of this shooting is straining credibility, compounded by the fact that Mayor de Blasio has no credibility at all, this is truly only the beginning. For now it appears that the integration of beat and militarized cops is now being implemented with regular crime-fighting, (d)evolving from the initial use of them for the free assemblage of protesters and exhibitions of defense from unconfirmed terrorist threats.
Which will inevitably lead to more unfortunate events like the street killing of Saheed Vassell and who knows what else since every citizen is being kept in the dark just so the Mayor and his NYPD can look competent and caring. Which will lead to more anger and confusion among the constituency, more protests that will lead to clashes between the people and the heavily armored cops and more expensive lawsuits and settlements against the NYPD, all of which definitely will not result in a-
A video made by a citizen Jose Lasalle of the community activist group CopWatch was released by news magazine The Indypendent of the scene possibly minutes after the shooting of Saheed Vassell by four police officers:
The video shows a police vehicle blocking the intersection and two cars in the middle of it, a woman confronting the cops who are motioning for her to back away but she still is able to get at a cop’s face. Cops surrounding the body and the two plainclothes cops standing on the corner where Vassell is lying dead on the sidewalk.
One of the plainclothes cop’s is wearing a T-shirt of The Punisher logo. The Punisher is a superhero comic book character who metes out justice by shooting and killing his foes and criminals on sight.
The Patch website for Crown Heights has the entire texts of the 911 calls.
The city has still not released the audio of the 911 calls nor the names of the cops.