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NYC Judge Lets a Killer Walk

Lichi D'Amelio May 20, 2013

"He killed my son! What more can you do to me?"

These were the words that Constance Malcolm screamed across a crowded Bronx courtroom to Judge Steven L. Barrett on May 15 as court officers went to physically remove her and haul her off to be hospitalized–for what they claimed must have been a "panic attack."

Moments earlier, Barrett had tossed out an indictment against NYPD officer Richard Haste, who, on February 2 of last year, murdered unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, Malcolm's eldest son, in the bathroom of his Bronx home while his grandmother and 6-year-old brother were nearby.

Constance Malcolm didn't have a "panic attack." Hers was a reaction of outrage and disgust at a racist court system that has proved, time and again, to be stacked against the victims of the NYPD and their relatives.

The fight to win Haste's indictment last year took four long months of continuous activism and organizing, with weekly vigils at Malcolm's house in honor of Ramarley that drew supporters from all across the city. These became a much needed and effective focal point for the anti-police brutality movement in New York City.

While Malcolm and Ramarley's father, Frank Graham, weren't satisfied with the manslaughter charges against Haste, they considered themselves lucky to have what they called "a foot in the door," since they knew that so many families of police murder victims never got that far.

But in a matter of a few words, Barrett ripped even that small victory away from them. "I had to make him see my pain–show him what he did to my family and what he did to me," Malcolm told Bronx 12 News.

Barrett's reasoning for his ruling is that the grand jury that indicted Haste was given potentially "misleading" instructions by prosecutors from Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson's office. In particular, Barrett was "very concerned" that jurors wouldn't take into consideration the information that Haste received from other officers, who, according to the defense, claimed to have somehow seen the "butt of a gun" on Ramarley. Because of this, Barrett said he felt "obliged in this case to dismiss the charges."

Of course, Barrett's concern about Haste getting fair treatment translates into utter disregard for Ramarley Graham. It's obviously unimaginable that Barrett would have shown Ramarley the same consideration had situation been reversed and the 18-year-old had been the one accused of killing an NYPD officer.

L. Antonia Codling, a New York City public defense lawyer who has been observing parts of the proceedings, remarked, "I represent people every day who never receive the kind of consideration Haste is getting. He and his fiancé were allowed to sit in a separate room of the courtroom until his case was called–he's being shielded in a way our clients never are. It is as if he is the victim in this case."

NYPD officers are notorious for murdering Black and Brown men–and getting away with it using the tailor-made-for-cops "I thought he had a gun" defense. Officers are rarely if ever indicted, and when they are, the chances of a guilty verdict are almost nil. As Codling explains, "The criminal justice system holds police officers in a higher regard than members of the general public. It is very hard to challenge the actions and behavior of police officers in court."

This despite the fact that Haste and his fellow officers broke into Ramarley's home, without a warrant, and threw his 67-year-old grandmother to the ground as his terrified little brother looked on. Nobody disputes what happened next. Haste broke open the door of the bathroom and shot Ramarley once in the chest, killing him. No gun was ever found, of course.

The story from the cops is that they had been staking out a nearby bodega for suspected drug dealing, and they had honed in on Ramarley, in particular, because of the "suspicious" way he had been adjusting his belt.

Haste initially claimed that Ramarley ran away from him, and a chase ensued, but this has been proven to be false. Video footage from a security camera outside Ramarley's house clearly shows him walking up to the front door of his house at a leisurely pace and closing the door behind him. Moments later, Haste, followed by a team of officers, seems to appear out of nowhere. He can be seen attempting to kick down the front door, failing and then running around the back. If it hadn't been for that footage, released by the building's landlord, Haste's story about being in "hot pursuit" of Ramarley would have gone unchallenged.

So it's infuriating that an array of media outlets–including the New York Times andHuffington Post–continue to perpetuate what was proven long ago to be an outright lie. As Malcolm posted on her Facebook page along with the easily available video footage, "Please watch this video and tell me if this young man looks like he was running? Who was the track star here? Who was the one with the gun here?"

Ultimately, Barrett had to consider two things: the undisputed evidence that Richard haste shot an unarmed teenager at close range in the tiny bathroom of his home; and the claim that fellow officers, not Haste himself, saw "the butt of a gun." For Barrett to rule that a manslaughter indictment–that is, a charge, not a conviction–could only go forward if the grand jury considered Haste's flimsy story that he heard there might be a gun is inconsistent with most grand jury proceedings, to say the least.

While Barrett's ruling is a huge blow to the struggle for justice in this case, the fight is far from over.

And there's historical precedent for keeping up the struggle. Iris Baez's son Anthony was killed in 1994 by NYPD Officer Francis Livoti. Baez, who was at the courthouse supporting Ramarley's family on May 15, talked about the long road to win justice for her son:

The case [against Livoti] was thrown out three times on technicalities. At one point, we had to do a sit-in at the DA's office–me and Margarita [Rosario] and other mothers–to get the DA to re-indict. Even the last judge who acquitted him said, "You're guilty, but I have to let you go [on a technicality]." We didn't get a conviction until we took it to the federal level.

That's why we can't stop fighting. When we stop fighting, they go back to business as usual.

Despite everything they've been through, Ramarley's parents have no intention of giving up. Over the past 15 months, they have built up a network of supporters that include other family members of police murder victims and activists from organizations all across the city, as well as public figures like Rev. Al Sharpton. As Sharpton said of the ruling, "This is an outrageous miscarriage of justice and an insult to the family and supporters of Ramarley Graham. We demand that a new grand jury is convened immediately, and that the case is re-presented."

In addition to having about 100 supporters with them at the courthouse on May 15, Malcolm and Graham immediately called a rally and march from their house to the 47th precinct for Saturday, May 18. Once again, about 100 people came out to support the family–including Natasha Davis, the sister of Shantel Davis, murdered in June 2012 by NYPD officer Phillip "Bad Boy" Atkins; and Carol Gray, mother of 16-year-old Kimani Gray, murdered on March 9 of this year by plainclothes officers Mourad Mourad and Jovaniel Cordova.

Gray spoke to the crowd through tears: "I'm still going through mine…two months…it feels like two days, two minutes…We're here to fight for Ramarley, Kimani, Shantel…We're here to save the kids who have a chance, because my son doesn't have a chance."

Constance Malcolm urged the crowd to think bigger about the implications of political actions. "We need justice," she said, "We have to stand up for our rights and our kids. Our government isn't doing anything…we need to make them." And she had a special message for New York City's mayoral candidates, saying, "Politicians are asking you to vote for them. We need to ask: What are you going to do about police brutality?"

Frank Graham pointed to the undeniable racism at the heart of this case, saying: "If this was a white-owned residence with white kids upstairs, this never would've happened." He shared his vision for future actions: "We're going to Manhattan, where the businesses are, the bridges…it won't be business as usual. We're nonviolent…but we're going to get justice by any means necessary."

It's clear that this is the time to step up the struggle against police brutality in New York City. The Floyd v. the City of New York lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of "stop-and-frisk is on trial in a Manhattan courtroom, with the proceedings entering their 10th week. Another lawsuit against the city filed by the Central Park Five–five Black and Latino men railroaded to prison for a crime they didn't commit, the 1989 assault and rape against a woman jogging in Central Park–is ongoing.

And now the spotlight is back on the murder of Ramarley Graham.

We have a real opportunity to revitalize the movement. The question is whether we can build, broaden and deepen the struggle–and begin to think strategically about how we use our forces. The challenge now is to figure out how to win victories, and move on from those victories by pushing for the next ones.

Barrett's bogus ruling was a setback, but the defiance of Ramarley's parents continues to inspire confidence among their supporters that we still might have a chance at winning. As Frank Graham said when he left the courtroom shortly after hearing Barrett's ruling:

If it means going back to the grand jury or if we have to ask the federal court to deal with this case, we are going to keep fighting no matter what. Wherever it leads us, we will go there. We will never stop until justice is served in this case, until Richard Haste goes to prison for murdering our son. If we start over, we will start stronger.

Lucy Herschel and Gary Lapon contributed to this article. It originally appeared at SocialistWorker.org.

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