Civil Liberties

Bronx Council Member Blames Racial Profiling for Killing of Ramarley Graham—What About the War on Drugs?

Bloomberg vetoes bills meant to place more restrictions on police


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Bronx City Council member Andy King released a statement Monday on the February 2012 NYPD shooting of Ramarley Graham, via NewsOne:  

Ramarley Graham's death was a tragedy which shook the members of my community and left us with heavy hearts. The subsequent struggle to obtain justice in this case has only served to add feelings of confusion and indignation. The recent not-guilty ruling on the George Zimmerman case has sparked similar feelings across the nation and both cases highlight a pattern of racial profiling and a failure of the system to hold accountable those who murder our young men of color.

Yes, the new grand jury convened for the Ramarley Graham case is an important victory, but in 2013 we should not have to plead for justice in a legal system that is already tasked with protecting us from discrimination and racial profiling. We will have to remain focused and committed as we work to break down this system of indifference towards the injustices we find ourselves facing nationwide."

Richard Haste, the officer who shot Graham was indicted for manslaughter, but that indictment was thrown out earlier this year because the grand jury wasn't told other cops told Haste that Graham had a gun. The DA intends to refile.

Curiously missing from the councilman's statement was the war on drugs' role in Graham's death. Police decided to pursue Graham because they say they saw him engage in a hand-to-hand drug deal. He was allegedly trying to flush a dime bag of marijuana down the toilet when he was shot. A minor drug deal is apparently enough for the NYPD to pursue a suspect. We called Councilman King to ask for a clarification. Here's our exchange:

Reason: Your statement on Ramarley Graham focused on the racial profiling component. What role did the war on drugs play, and, specifically, the NYPD targeting hand-to-hand drug deals as a matter of course?

Councilman Andy King: That's an interesting question… drugs are prevalent in our community. What kind of impact it had here only the NYPD can reveal… I do know the area under surveillance has had a history of potential drug activity. Whether Ramarley Graham was involved in that or not still doesn't justify the steps that were taken by the officer on the day of this tragic incident. Profiling exists, and we cannot deny our history, we cannot deny what we go through in this country…  even if someone might've indulged in any behavior in the past. According to how I understand it there were drug officers who were surveilling the area. And as much as whatever activity, whether profiling or drug use or non-drug use, I think that if we look at this in a different community, not of color, I think Officer Haste would've taken a different approach. I love America, I love the place that I live in, but I do understand the history. This country has a large energy of racism, of discrimination, of bigotry, so until we actually sit and have a conversation about how we interact with each other, or how NYPD or law enforcement or the justice system treats us, but this needs to happen soon, before there's a situation that we can't bounce back from.

Reason: Does the war on drugs, and the way it's prosecuted by the NYPD, make racial profiling easier for police to get away with?

King: I would probably have to agree with the statement that you just made…  there's a war on drugs, and then I want to ask you the question, is there really a war on drugs? We've been having these conversations since Nancy Reagan said just say no, and the government has had its hands in the mix of preventing illegal drug use coming in and out of our community, so why is it still today, 30 years later, at the same place? So I ask the question, is there really a war on drugs?  But how come you never have these episodes ever happen outside of communities of color with police going too far… Police wouldn't do this anyplace else.  So of course we can talk about the war on drugs, that's been part of the, I don't want to say confusion, but part of the issue… Profiling is necessary to solve crimes, but to racially profile is to go from one to ten based only on race.

Reason: If the NYPD were to counteract accusations of racial profiling by targeting more young white males suspected of making illegal drug purchases, would that lend their activities in the community more credence?

King: If the scale is equal, of course. Because they're doing something wrong… for us to act like there's no drug use in the white community, we're fooling ourselves. There's coke heads on Wall Street. In communities of color we're constantly hearing about the mistakes, but you never hear about crime in the white communities, with police saying oops. So why do we have it now and always in communities of color? It's unfair to target just young men of color.

Reason: In your opinion, what's the best way to limit hostile interactions between the NYPD and youth involved in non-violent but possibly criminal activity?

King: That's what the Community Safety Act is asking the police to do, you take a policy like stop, question, and frisk, when you eliminate the questioning you violate your own rules, that's the problem. Real policing in all communities involves questioning, finding proper intel, and being fair when you go out into the communities. If you're telling me in a black community, if you're throwing people who are doing good in the same pot as the people doing bad, you're just muddling any relationship you could've built with the people who were doing right. Ten percent of the people do the crimes, and they take up ninety percent of the police's time, treating the ninety percent like the ten percent who commit crimes is ineffective policing and makes the police officer's job that much more difficult, and it also puts a strain on police and community trust. So to double back, how does the NYPD do safe policing? Policing with integrity and with respect,  that means if you know you have a criminal that's not violent there's a certain way you do your policing work and still treat them like a human…  But if you treat everyone like a criminal, the 14-year-old, the 19-year-old…  how do you expect for them to help you with the policing? They know whose moving in their community and who's doing what, but you just killed that relationship.

Reason: What's your take on Ray Kelly being floated as a potential nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security?

King: That's a decision the president has to make, stand by, and I believe in whatever my president believes is best for our country, so I have no qualms about who he picks.

Reason: Even given the history of racial profiling?

King: Again, I elected the president because I trust him to make the right decisions for our country.

The Community Safety Act, as well as another bill that would've set up an inspector-general for the NYPD, was vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg yesterday, while Ray Kelly defended stop and frisk on MSNBC, dismissing the "notion anyone stopped has done absolutely nothing wrong."

Related reading: Jacob Sullum on Ray Kelly, racial profiling, and the president's prerogative