“Why us” was the refrain voiced by many residents in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., after a large crowd of youths attending a vigil dedicated to 16-year-old Kimani Gray (pictured inset), who was shot dead by cops on Saturday, became violent and ripped through several blocks of their East New York community.
Many residents told NewsOne that while they understood young people’s frustration over police brutality against Black youths, they were equally upset that they could not channel their anger in a more peaceful manner.
“I don’t understand why they are doing this to innocent people,” Shandra Smith told NewsOne. “We don’t have anything to do with this. They need to take it up with the cops. You can’t come busting people’s cars and throwing the trash around. [They] live in the neighborhood. Don’t destroy us. It’s not right.”
The disturbance began at what was initially a peaceful 7 p.m. vigil in memory of Gray, who was shot and killed by two NYPD police officers who claimed the teen pointed a .38 caliber pistol at them. An hour or so in to the vigil, which was held at E. 52nd St. and Tilden Ave., the location of the shooting, the teens began marching to the 67th police precinct, according to the New York Daily News.
The procession turned violent after a faction broke off from the estimated 100-plus youths (some estimates claim 200 were in attendance) and started destroying property. These rioters hurled trash cans, bottles, and other objects at police on the scene, while others took out their anger on the property of locals who stood by watching in disbelief.
A violent faction from the peaceful protesters damaged property in some 20 city blocks, starting from the E. 50s down to the lower E. 30s, based on several reports. The New York Post reports that some of them rushed inside of a Rite Aid and destroyed it.
“They poured in here, like 40 or 50 of them,” Lorenzo Evans, the manager of the Rite Aid told the Post. “They pulled the registers off the counter. They flipped over everything. They punched me in the face, several of them did, not just one. It was insane.”
Watch news coverage of the riot below:
Several hours after the madness, it looked as though a tornado had come and gone: Heaps of trash were strewn over the streets of several neighborhood blocks. Vehicles in the path of the rioters sustained busted rear view mirrors, broken windows, and dented hoods.
Shawna Jones, who lives in the lower East 30s, said she saw around 100 youths rioting in the streets as she got out of the train station.”There were cops telling kids who had nothing to do with it, ‘Get off the corner, get off the corner,’” Jones told NewsOne. “They were warning them.”
It was an unfortunate ending to what was supposed to be a peaceful protest, with many residents viewing Gray’s death as yet another unjustified shooting of a Black male in New York City.
Gray was reportedly hanging out with a group of teens on East 52nd Street near Snyder Avenue about 11:25 p.m. Saturday, when two plain clothes officers approached the youths in an unmarked car. Cops say Gray was acting strangely, so they stepped out of their vehicle to speak with him, but he allegedly pulled out a gun.
The two officers shot Gray multiple times, killing him.
Witnesses to the shooting say Gray did not pull out his gun. Given the Black community’s distrust of the NYPD, some are obviously questioning whether Gray had a gun at all. Still, most reports — some of which include quotes from Gray’s friends saying he did have one but did not pull it out — confirm Gray was armed. Either way, Gray’s friends feel that the police did not need to shoot him.
While many of the residents were outraged at the rioters, some community leaders, who were quick to denounce their actions, were more understanding of the youths.
“The kids, they retaliate because they want their voice to be heard,” Sandra Mitchelin, a community organizer, told DNAinfo. “They’re frustrated. Not even the police commissioner or the mayor, nobody came out…. And [Gray] was a baby!”
New York City Councilman Jumaan Williams, who arrived on the scene to try and calm the crowd, tweeted that more needs to be done to help people express their anger.
Tonight was a peaceful vigil [for Gray] that devolved into a riot, Williams said. The youth in this community have no outlets for their anger, no community center.
As legitimate as Mitchelin’s and Williams’ perspectives are, they miss one key point voiced by many of the residents NewsOne spoke with: When the teens took out their “frustration” on innocent residents, they essentially created more harm in the same community that already feels under siege by the NYPD.
“It was a cop that shot a little boy,” Sophia Esposito said. “If they wanted to retaliate against somebody, they should have gone after the cops if they want to be ballsy enough to do something like this. Not come in to a neighborhood with hardworking people who are struggling and work hard for what they have.”
A 29-year-old man, who did not want to be identified, voiced Esposito’s sentiments, pointing to his aunt’s gold-colored jeep parked nearby, which he says was damaged by the teens who ripped through the neighborhood. Multiple dents, along with freshly stumped sneaker prints, were visible on the vehicle’s sun roof. “That’s a working nurse’s car,” he said angrily. “With three kids. They took it out on the hood and for what?”