HARLEM — The family of Ramarley Graham had been advised to move from Harlem to the Bronx by community leaders who feared they had become the target of an NYPD harassment campaign.
The advice was given just a couple of months before Graham was shot dead in his bathroom by an officer.
On July 25, 2010, a police cruiser pulled up outside the Harlem home of Ramarley Graham's father, Franclot Graham, who lived with Ramarley's stepmother, four brothers, and grandmother at 131st Street. Ramarley, who was not present, lived in the Bronx with his mother, Constance Malcolm.
The boys' grandmother tried to usher the teens inside. Then all hell broke loose.
The teens said they were beaten, maced and knocked unconscious, according to a civil lawsuit filed against the the city and officers from the 32nd precinct. Officers used batons and mace to enter their apartment without a warrant, they claimed.
The Harlem community alleged that the incident was part of a pattern of harassment against the family and held a meeting at the Nation of Islam's No. 7 Mosque to address the issue.
"My suggestion to them was to move out of Harlem to the Bronx," said Royce Russell, the attorney representing the three men in the civil suit. "I gave them that suggestion four months ago — before Ramarley Graham was killed."
Ramarley Graham, 18, was living in the Bronx with his mother, Constance Malcolm. In February this year, he was chased from White Plains Road and East 228th Street to his home at 749 E. 229th St. by police who were investigating a report of a drug deal.
The officers believed they saw a gun in Graham's waistband and tried to break through the front door of the building before breaking through the door of the apartment, confronting Graham in the bathroom and fatally shooting him in the chest.
A single bag of marijuana was discovered.
"Where are they going to go now?" Russell asked.
While no one believes the two incidents are linked, community activists and the Graham family say they both stem from much-criticized police policies such as stop and frisk and the confrontational relationship they create between the NYPD and young men of color.
Four days after the first incident, on July 29, 2010, police returned to the 131st Street second floor apartment where Franclot Graham lived with his family and arrested his twin sons after police say they found a shotgun shell under a mattress, according to the civil suit.
Russell said all the charges in the July 25th incident were dismissed, while the charges against one of the twins was dismissed in the July 29th incident.
"We felt the incident was a case of abuse from the NYPD," said Abdul Kareem Muhammad who organized the August 2010 meeting at the mosque.
"The event was trying to bring attention to it so that type of thing wouldn't happen going forward. It's coincidental that two years later he loses another son to the NYPD."
Russell wasn't as sure.
"When you have race and class against you, it's not unusual to have an incident in the Bronx and one in Manhattan surrounding the same family," he said. "I'm sure if i got on the phone and talked to all my relatives, they'd have problems as well."
Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources said Ramarley Graham's death could hurt efforts to improve police and community relations.
"This kind of thing validates to kids that they can't trust the police," he said.
"It's a major step backwards."
Russell said the NYPD alleged that Graham's sons had "criminal involvement and gang involvement, hence the basis for these arrests."
Harlem community members had the same concerns, but they wanted a resolution to the situation.
"It was constant harassment," said one community organizer who asked not to be named to protect their working relationship with police. "Community members said if they are involved with a crime, just arrest them, but stop harassing them."
In November 2011, Franclot Graham's twin sons were arrested and charged with being part of a violent, gun toting gang that terrorized the neighborhood around 129th Street and Lenox and Fifth avenues.
The gang allegedly brought in guns, including assault weapons such as a Chinese SKS semiautomatic assault rifle, and used them in shootings, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
Hodean Graham, 18, known as "Gotti Twin," was charged with attempted murder, assault, weapons possession and conspiracy. His twin brother Kadean, also known as "Gotti Twin," was charged with weapons possession and conspiracy.
Community activists say Franclot Graham was very concerned about his sons and the violence in the neighborhood in the years preceding their arrests. He even joined local anti-violence efforts.
"He was one of the first five parents to come to me regarding the violence in the neighborhood," said Rev. Vernon Williams, president of the Harlem Clergy Community Leaders Coalition and Perfect Peace Ministries.
"He's been with me everywhere from the Bronx to Lincoln Projects where he has even helped to squash beefs," said Williams.
The bottom line, said Sekou, is that neighborhoods like Harlem and the Bronx deserve to be free from violence.
"Our community should not be terrorized by anyone, whether police or gun toters," said Sekou.
"The death of young people in our community should not be commonplace."