HARLEM — A judge who told the twin brothers of Ramarley Graham they were partly responsible for the police shooting death of the Bronx teen overreached, Harlem anti-violence activists said.
In sentencing Hodean and Kadean Graham, both 19, to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison for conspiracy Wednesday, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Edward McLaughlin said their participation in a gang that sold guns and drugs helped create an atmosphere that contributed to the killing of their unarmed brother.
But Jackie Rowe-Adams, co-founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., said she did not blame the twins for their brother's death, but said that violence in places such as Harlem is contagious.
"When you create a hostile environment of negativity and violence ..., what do you think they are going to do?" asked Rowe-Adams, who lost two sons to gun violence.
"We have to send the message that this is wrong."
Rev. Vernon Williams, president of the Harlem Clergy Community Leaders Coalition, said the judge's comments were a "reach."
"But when you meddle in that lifestyle people will try to say anything about you," Williams said.
Judge McLaughlin, reading a three-page statement before the sentencing, said the boys' actions displayed the "unanticipated effects of gun violence."
"No one, of course, is accusing either of you of holding the gun which killed your brother," McLaughlin said.
"But the acts of your conspiracy, spanning four years, including many shootings and ending just months before his death, is an unavoidable and integral part of the context in which that tragic event occurred and likely will be judged."
Ramarley Graham, 18, was shot dead in The Bronx by NYPD officer Richard Haste in February after police who were investigating a report of a drug deal chased Graham from White Plains Road and East 228th Street to his home nearby.
Police said they believed Ramarley Graham had a gun in his waistband. They broke through the door of his apartment and Haste confronted Graham in the bathroom, shooting him once in the chest. No weapon was found. Haste has pleaded not guilty to a charge of manslaughter.
"If the shooting is found to have been justified, it will be in the context of the incessant gun violence in the city to that point," McLaughlin said during the sentencing of Ramarley Graham's brothers Wednesday.
"If the shooting was not justified, the shooting will have been an unreasonable reaction to the gun violence in the city up to that point."
The Graham family furiously rejected the link, saying their unarmed son was killed by police. Policies such as stop-and-frisk, which are criticized for stereotyping black men, also helped cause the incident, Graham family members said.
Recently, Williams and other neighborhood activists have been working with Rev. Al Sharpton on a project called Occupy the Corners where groups of people gather at night on corners where there has been violence.
Williams said that is the type of direct action needed to begin to address the gun violence in places such as Harlem.
"That's a step in the right direction because it focuses attention on gun violence and is creating a more cohesive effort to stop it," Williams said.
Rowe-Adams said the number of people carrying guns and shooting others can also affect police.
"The police are human," she said. "They are supposed to be trained to deal with the community but they are scared too."
That's why Rowe-Adams said she is participating in the New York Family Health Walk-A-Thon for Peace in our Communities Saturday. The event is sponsored by Harlem Week and the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.
"We are trying to change this culture of violence in our community and replace it with a healthy one," Rowe-Adams said.