Kenneth Chamberlain was shot and killed by police after being zapped with a stun gun during a conflict in his White Plains, New York, apartment last November.
The police claimed that they acted in self-defense after the 68-year-old former Marine and corrections officer came at them wielding a hatchet and knife, according to a New York magazine report.
Now, more than four months later, a grand jury is scheduled to convene this week to hear the details of the incident and determine if the police committed a crime.
In the wake of the much-publicized Trayvon Martin shooting, the Chamberlain case has thrown another spotlight on how local authorities have handled incidents with potential racial implications.
The Chamberlain shooting occurred on the early morning of Nov. 19 when police responded to an alert from the veteran’s medical bracelet. Chamberlain, who has a chronic heart condition, may have set off the alert accidentally. Since the system’s two-way intercom recorded the entire exchange, at least one officer can be heard yelling a racial slur and taunting Chamberlain before they took the door off its hinges and entered the apartment.
A hallway security camera and a camera on an officer’s stun gun have captured video of the interaction as well.
According to a report in New York magazine:
Chamberlain reportedly yelled, “Semper fi,” to which officers responded, “Hoo-rah!” Another told Chamberlain they needed to use his bathroom. Someone outside the apartment reportedly screamed, “I don’t give a f–k, n—-r, open the door!”
Chamberlain, who was allegedly miffed that he had been awakened, had refused to open the door. But police claim that since they were responding to a medical alert that needed to enter the apartment.
After a stand-off that lasted an hour, the authorities pried the door open.
Available video footage captures Chamberlain was standing in his boxer shorts, arms at his side and his hands empty. No footage beyond that of what happened inside the apartment has surfaced. However, police claim that Chamberlain charged them with a knife.
The family’s lawyer Mayo Bartlett has said:
“The minute they got in the house, they didn’t even give him one command. They never mentioned ‘put your hands up.’ They never told him to lay down on the bed. The first thing they did … you could see the Taser light up … and you could see it going directly toward him.”
The parallels to the Martin case are quiet clear: A black male is killed and it has taken months for a grand jury to even consider if there was any crime committed. There are also audio records to suggest that the incident involved some degree of hate speech by the killer.
Then there’s a question of excessive force: Did the cops really need to Taser and shoot and kill Chamberlain, a 68-year-old man with a chronic heart disease, who was in his boxer shorts standing in his own apartment?
In addition, like the Martins, it seems that in order for Chamberlain’s family to receive a thorough investigation of the incident, that they needed to drum up public sympathy before local authorities paid close attention to the death, and not just take the cops’ account as the final word.
So far, the story has been covered by alternative news organizations like Democracy Now and extensively by local newspaper Daily White Plains. It made the cover of the New York Daily News as well. But the incident has been increasingly gaining traction via social media sites like Twitter, Facebook.
We’re surely going to hear more of this case in the upcoming days.
Brett Johnson is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and the founder of the music and culture blog VeryArtistical.com.