Justice for Saheed

By Daniel Strom

Shaheed Vassell

Thousands of human rights activists want justice for a mentally ill Jamaican-born immigrant shot to death by NYPD officers as millions around the country were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Holding silver pipe

Vassell, who was born in Jamaica and migrated with his family to Brooklyn, NY at age 6, was holding a silver metal pipe with a head on it on April 4th at Utica Avenue near the corner of Montgomery Street, in Brooklyn, when police opened fire, killing him.

Shot 10 times

NYPD officials, including Chief of Department Terence Monahan, say the two plainclothes and two uniformed officers responding to a 911 call just before 5 p.m. ET about a man pointing what was described as a “silver firearm” at people at the corner, mistook the item for a silver gun. He said when officers arrived Vassell, 34, reportedly pointed the object at them and they opened fire, shooting a combined 10 times.

Vassell was transported to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush neighborhood, where he was pronounced dead.

Wants justice

Vassell’s mother, Lorna Vassell, called the killing of her son “unjustified.” “I want justice. They murdered my son, and I want justice for him,” she said, while questioning why police didn’t simply shoot her son in his leg.

His father, Eric Vassell, said his son had bipolar disorder and had been admitted to the hospital multiple times in recent years, sometimes after encounters with the police.  

Ironically, police also shot dead Vassell’s best friend, Ortanzso (Marlon) Bovell, on a Brooklyn street in August 2008. That killing, according to family members, set Vassell on a downward spiral mentally. “We were taking care of him, doing everything for him,” his mother stated.

Vassell was one of four siblings who lived in their parents’ two-bedroom apartment as children in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. He dropped out of high school but ultimately built a career as a welder before his mental health breakdown.

Kept stack of Bibles

A stack of Bibles and religious books were among the items on Vassell’s bedroom dresser at his parents’ apartment, according to the New York Times. His various Bibles were placed neatly in size order, one on top of the other, with the largest at the bottom. He, reportedly, routinely attended 7:30 a.m. service at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church. Vassell, a father of a teenage son, also went to Mass at the church every Sunday.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman now also wants to know why the Jamaican immigrant, whose shooting has sparked an intense standoff between angry residents who knew Vassell, and police. and days of protests, was shot dead by police. “We’re committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive, and fair investigation,” Schneiderman said late last week.

Protest march

About 2,000 people marched in the streets of Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights in response to the killing of Vassell. Nerdeen Kiswani, an organizer with Within Our Lifetime, said, “People who live here, people who worked here all knew Saheed. They knew that he walk around with various objects that he found. He would come into my dad’s store and show off what he had. Then my dad would give him water,” she said.

Marchers also yelled: “FTP! F… the police!” to “How do you spell criminal? NYPD!,” as they tried to come to terms with yet another Black man shot down by police. (NewsAmericasNow.com)

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