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Protesters Dwindle as Police Presence Grows at Vigil for Kimani Gray

By Jesse Lent | March 17, 2013 10:41am

BROOKLYN — A small crowd of demonstrators gathered at a candlelight vigil on the corner of East 55th Street and Church Avenue in East Flatbush on Saturday, in an ongoing protest over the death of Kimani Gray, the 16-year-old boy fatally shot by police officers one week earlier, after he allegedly pointed a gun at them.

Following five nights of vigils for Gray, some of them drawing more than three times as many people, the crowd of nearly 50 demonstrators marched to the 67th Precinct after nearly two hours at the nightly protest.

Hundreds of police officers filled the streets surrounding Saturday's evening demonstration, which began at 7 p.m.

“People were chanting,” demonstrator Lisa Knauer, a 56-year-old professor of anthropology at UMass Dartmouth, said of the scene at the precinct. “The corner was barricaded off. We were across the street from the precinct. People were giving impromptu speeches.”

On the way to the police station, the demonstrators stopped at the East 52nd Street house in front of which Gray was shot, and paused again at the intersection where 23-year-old Shantel Davis was allegedly shot and killed by police after crashing a stolen car in June of 2012.

Cops on horses, motorcycles and even posted on top of a building across the street, surrounded the protesters at the vigil, and gates built for a much larger crowd penned in the protesters for several blocks.

“As I biked over here from East 16th Street, I counted at least one police car per block — 40 police cars,” Knauer said.

“I don’t know if it means they’re afraid of the community. It certainly makes me feel criminalized.”

An NYPD spokesman said on Sunday he could not say how many officers had been assigned to the vigil site for Saturday's protest.

There have been several attacks on police officers following the Gray shooting.

On Wednesday night, a protestor smashed an officer's face with a brick, according to the New York Post and New York Times. Monday night, some demonstrators allegedly threw bottles at cops, after vandalizing and robbing a Rite Aid.

Activist Fatimah Shakur, 29, feels the police response to the violence at the vigils has been unjustly harsh.

“They’re not playing fair,” Shakur said. “They’re not respecting our constitutional right to protest. That’s not cool.”

Among the crowd of demonstrators at Saturday’s vigil was 14-year-old friend of Gray’s, Nia Denerville, who remembers him as “a good boy.”

“It’s so sad he had to go like that for no reason,” Denerville said.

Earlier that day, Denerville's 21-year-old brother Jelanie Deshong hosted an event at the Tilden Educational Campus, organized by Councilmember Jumanne Williams, a prominent voice over the past week's vigils for Gray.

Deshong echoed a shared sentiment among anti-police brutality protesters: Gray's death needs a probe conducted of outside of the NYPD.

"We need to have an official investigation that's independent of the NYPD," he said.