The Christian Science Monitor

At crossroads of policing and murder, a long push for accountability

Officers with New York Police Department's 45th Precinct talk with local residents at a Coffee with a Cop event with the 45th Precinct Community Council at The Miles Coffee Bar on January 24, 2018 in the Bronx, New York. The 45th Precinct is set to implement a Neighborhood Coordination Officers program to strengthen relationships with the community. Source: Ann Hermes/Staf

After her son Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by a New York police officer, Constance Malcolm says she dedicated herself to community activism almost by accident.

“I had to be Ramarley’s voice,” she says. “Even now, when you hear about Ramarley’s story, you think, 'Oh, yeah, that was the kid that was running from police into the house, and who hid in the bathroom.' Six years later, and that’s what you hear. I have to try to get that out of people’s mindset.”

Two hundred miles away in Baltimore, a city experiencing an unprecedented wave of murders since the death of Freddie Gray, a small group of mothers who had lost their sons or daughters to the crime of murder were grappling with agonizing questions about their communities. (Part 1, “A tale of two cities and murder.”) They were focusing on the choices the young men in their communities were making, and why their neighborhoods were in such a state. They, too, wanted larger structural changes in their city, but their focus was on what could be called a common-sense conservatism, less about ideology and legislation per se, and more about training their children in the ways they should go.

There are similar groups of people in New York. But for Malcolm, the structures of the American justice system itself – the tactics of the NYPD, the differences in arrest and incarceration rates, and the lack of a common-sense system of accountability and transparency for those who wield the lethal power of the state – created a matrix of human decisions that led to what she believes was the murder of her son. 

Police said they saw a gun protruding from Mr. Graham’s pocket and that he fled from them, dashing home and into his apartment. Video surveillance evidence, however, contradicted their claims – showing him walking casually into his home. Officers followed him into his apartment, and as Graham was allegedly trying to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet, they thought they saw him reach for a gun, and shot and killed him. A gun was never found.

“I was determined to let them know that I wasn’t going to take this laying down,”

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