Protesters See Echoes of Trayvon Martin in Ramarley Graham Shooting Death
BRONX—If he was still alive, Ramarley Graham would have turned 19 on Thursday.
But Instead of a big celebration with family and friends, Graham's mother Constance Malcolm stood outside the 47th Precinct station house, wiping tears away as about 100 protesters sang happy birthday to her son.
It was part of a series of weekly protests to denounce the Feb. 2 shooting death of the unarmed teen at the hands of police.
"Lord, the last two months have been hard for me, especially today, Ramarley's birthday," Malcolm said outside of the home she shared with Graham, where he was also killed.
"If there was just one wish tonight it would be that my son would be here with me."
Graham was killed after police from the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit investigating a drug deal chased him from White Plains Road and East 228th Street to his home at 749 E. 229th St., believing he had a gun hidden in his waistband.
Officers kicked in the front door of Graham's apartment where officer Richard Haste, 30, confronted Graham in the bathroom and fatally shot the teen in the chest as his grandmother and young brother looked on. Police said they found a single bag of marijuana.
One day after prosecutors in Florida announced charges of second degree murder against volunteer neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman for the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old black teen Trayvon Martin, protesters in the Wakefield section of the Bronx couldn't help but making a connection between the two cases.
They called for Haste and his supervisors to also face murder charges in the shooting.
"No one has a right to hurt another human being the way they hurt Ramarley," said state Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson while standing at Graham's home as red, yellow and blue "Happy Birthday" balloons tied to the front gate swayed in the breeze.
"His failure to reach his....birthday should be a clarion call to do something different," she added.
And just like the nationwide protesters who pressured law enforcement officers to investigate the Martin case after Zimmerman was initially released without charges, protesters in the Bronx say they also won't stop until charges are filed.
"To those who say that marching doesn't work, I point to Trayvon Martin," said Sheron Pearson of the community group People of Black Heritage who has helped to organize protests. "Had there not been an outcry, George Zimmerman would still be a free man today."
In many ways, the Zimmerman arrest gave the crowd of 100 protesters hope.
"I know you heard the good news," Carlton Berkeley, a former New York City police officer and Graham family friend said to loud cheers outside the 47th Precinct building. "That's what we want here. Just like Zimmerman was arrested last night, we are going to get our justice.
Haste and his supervisor, Sgt. Scott Morris, were stripped of their guns and badges. The Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has also convened a grand jury to review the shooting and determine whether charges will be filed.
In the meantime, the family has led weekly Thursday night protests marches to the 47th Precinct station house while their lawyer has a filed a notice of claim to sue the city for wrongful death, said Graham family attorney Royce Russell.
Russell said the difference between the Martin and Graham cases was that Haste was a law enforcement officer on duty at the time of the shooting while Zimmerman was an armed volunteer watchman who was just suppossed to observe and report.
Still, he believes the circumstances of the Graham shooting called for criminal charges.
"I do believe police officers are no different than other citizens in that they have to be held acountable for their actions," he said.
"it's been encouraging for one grieving family to watch another grieving family demand and get some justice. But for us, an arrest is just the beginning. We want a conviction," he added.
The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents NYPD officers, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources said she was pleased to see a consitent force out protesting Graham's death. But the response should be as large as the Martin shooting, which has garnered national protests and international headlines.
"We've gotten too used to young people dying at the hands of police or one another. This is commonplace. We have to stand up for justice and say this killing in not normal," said Sekou.
Rosiah Morrison, a friend of the Graham family agreed. She says she's worried about her own son's interaction with police after seeing so many young black men get stopped and frisked in her Bronx neighborhood.
"This ia a good start. The fact that we keep gathering and uniting to make a change can have a difference."