The grief-stricken mother of Saheed Vassell addressed hundreds in Brooklyn, New York Thursday afternoon after her son was fatally shot by four New York police department officers on Wednesday.
“I want to make it clear Saheed came from a good family and they had no right to shoot him down, and he was not a gunman,” Lorna Vassell said, with pain in her voice, AM New York reported. “I want no one to portray him as a lowlife. He was a good man.”
The narratives about Black men and women shot by police can be shaped by officers’ statements and reports. But the dozens who gathered at the spot where Vassell was killed in Crown Heights at 4:40 p.m. Thursday—an exact 24 hours after Vassell was killed—with the National Action Network sent a message of justice for the 34-year-old man who was overwhelmingly praised as “good.”
“He was a humble dude — never seen him get into anything,” Clive Williams, 38, of Crown Heights, said about his friend Vassell. “To hear what happened to him, I was heartbroken.”
Vassell, who suffered from bipolar disorder according to his father, was killed after cops reportedly fired 10 shots. Three of the four officers who fired were in plainclothes. Cops had responded to a 911 call of someone with a firearm and found an unarmed Vassell with only a metal pipe. The cops didn’t use any de-escalation tactics, a witness explained, and fatally shot Vassell within seconds.
Local beat cops who’d previously dealt with Vassell knew of his mental illness, the New York Times reported.
The vigil for Vassell had transformed into a demonstration against police brutality on Thursday.
But how will justice continue to be fought for in Vassell’s death? Demands have gone out for the NYPD officers involved in the shooting to be fired and indicted on murder charges. The NYPD is conducting its own review of the shooting, but the five officers remained on full duty as of late Thursday, police officials said.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also opened an investigation into the shooting. Senator Jesse Hamilton, a representative of Crown Heights, called for a full investigation into the man’s death, a tragedy that can’t be ignored.
“We are mad,” Hamilton told the crowd Thursday. “Too many of our young men are dying on our streets. Having a mental health issue shouldn’t be a death sentence.”