Bronx Supreme Court
On Wikimedia Commons
By A. G. Moore 5/17/2013
Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett threw out a manslaughter indictment against NYPD Officer Richard Haste this week. Officer Haste had been charged with manslaughter after he shot to death 19-year old Bronx resident, Ramarley Graham. The shooting occurred in Mr. Graham’s bathroom. The youth was unarmed at the time and in an adjoining room were his grandmother and younger brother.
The police action that resulted in Mr. Graham’s death had begun a short time before; police observed three men–Mr. Graham and two of his friends–leaving a neighborhood bodega. A drug buy was suspected. Mr.Graham went one way; his friends another. Police followed the friends and spotted Mr. Graham a short time later as he headed toward his apartment building.
Meanwhile, a bulletin had gone out over police dispatch that Mr. Graham appeared to have a gun tucked into his waistband.
Surveillance cameras captured the scene as Mr. Graham entered his apartment building. According to the New York Times, the cameras showed”… Mr. Graham walking casually up to the front door, appearing unhurried, a moment before the police officers sprinted into view.”
And sprint they did. They broke down the door to the building, rushed up the stairs, burst into Mr. Graham’s apartment. There, Officer Haste apparently found the young man crouched on the bathroom floor. The officer said he thought his life was in danger. He fired and Mr. Graham died.
During the grand jury hearing, all of this came out in testimony. When the DA charged the jurors, however, he instructed them to disregard statements police had made before the shooting: that is, police assertions that Mr. Graham might have a gun. It is because of this DA instruction that Haste’s indictment was thrown out. The judge’s view is that the jury must consider what Haste was told before he entered Ramarley Graham’s building.
In other words, context is important.
The concept that context is powerful is one that Ramarley Graham might strongly endorse–if he were alive to do so. You see, in a sense, Rarmarley Graham was indicted by context at birth.
Consider the afternoon of his death: if Ramarley Graham had been white and had been coming out of an upscale eatery with two white stockbroker friends, he would likely not have been targeted. But Mr. Graham was in his own neighborhood. He was coming out of a bodega. He was not white and neither were his two friends.
The police officers were suspicious. Of course they were suspicious; look where Mr. Graham was and who he was with. The two friends were followed and Mr. Graham was spotted a short time later. He approaches his building–his home. Although police statements after the shooting indicate this was an urgent situation, video evidence reveals otherwise. Mr. Graham does not look nervous or wary as he enters his building. He does not appear to be threatened. There is nothing menacing or suspicious about his behavior.
Despite Mr. Graham’s obvious nonchalance, officers break into his building and burst into his home. Accounts vary as to what happened after Officer Haste encountered Mr. Graham. But then, context had already, in a sense, determined the outcome, as it had determined the forced entry of Mr. Graham’s domicile.
Officer Haste is responsible for the decisions he made in Mr. Graham’s apartment. Justice Barrett tells us that the context of those decisions bears upon his guilt. But instead of considering the context of a few statements police might have made, what of the larger context, the one which gave police the mindset that prompted them to follow Mr. Graham, to break into his home and to kill him without apparent cause.
Who is responsible for that?