So far, we’ve only heard and seen the official NYPD narrative of the police killing of Saheed Vassell. And activists are now demanding a full accounting of exactly what happened.
Four officers — one in uniform, three plainclothes — gunned down Vassell, 34, in a hail of 10 bullets. They were responding to calls about a Black man with a gun. But it turned out that Vassell was holding a pipe. No firearm was found at the scene.
The NYPD released transcripts of the emergency calls and video clips that showed Vassell pointing the pipe at people on the busy Crown Heights neighborhood sidewalk. Yet video of the actual encounter is missing, said Sharpton.
“The video we’re not seeing is of what the police did. When did they arrive? When did they get out of the car? What did they do? What did they say?” Sharpton stated. “This is not fair.”
Officers didn’t try to diffuse the situation—not even warning Vassell to put down the object, a witness said.
“They just hopped out of the car. It’s almost like they did a hit. They didn’t say please. They didn’t say put your hands up, nothing,” stated witness Jaccbot Hinds.
People in the neighborhood, as well as the officers assigned to the community, knew about Vassell’s mental illness and believed he was harmless, Andre Wilson, Vassell’s longtime friend told the New York Daily News. But the officers who killed Vassell were reportedly uninformed about his history before they immediately opened fire. That’s not unusual for NYPD officers who have a history of killing mentally ill suspect without taking deescalation steps.
Vassell’s parents could not force their son to take medication because he was an adult, Sharpton said. Ironically, police shot dead Vassell’s best friend, Ortanzso (Marlon) Bovell, on a Brooklyn street in 2008. The killing set Vassell on a downward spiral, a friend told the Daily News.
“He (Vassell) wasn’t an angry person,” Bovell’s sister Leesh said. “He was depressed mentally. They were friends forever. He hasn’t been the same since Marlon died.”