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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Not Again!: Another Police Shooting of an Unarmed Man of Color in NYC

Yet again we have the news that a New York Police Department officer has shot an unarmed young man of color. This is not the instance of the police shooting a man who is actively presenting an imminent danger, as in the case of the shooter at tourist-crowded Empire State Building incident several weeks ago. The latest case is an entirely different circumstance.

Early Thursday morning an NYPD detective shot and killed an Army reservist on the Grand Central Parkway on his way home from one of his two jobs. Now, it is unfortunately not uncommon for New York City area motorists to make ill-informed driving choices, speeding and switching wrecklessly. It is very dangerous, but it is not grounds for the police to shoot the driver.

Here is how DNAinfo reported the story:
QUEENS — An NYPD detective shot and killed an unarmed man behind the wheel of a car on the Grand Central Parkway on Thursday morning as an off-duty cop slept in the back seat, police said.
Noel Polanco, 22, was in his 2012 Honda Fit Hybrid with two female passengers — one of them a police officer who was placed on modified duty recently because of a disciplinary issue — when he was spotted driving erratically in the eastbound lanes about 5:15 a.m., police said.
Friends said Polanco, whose nickname was Sparks, was an U.S. Army reservist who lived with his mother and recently lost his stepfather to suicide.
"He's been stressed since, but he never really did anything wrong," said Tito Cordero, 27, a friend of Polanco's. "He doesn't fight. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He just works to get his mind off all the problems."
Polanco allegedly cut between two unmarked NYPD Emergency Service Unit Apprehension Team vehicles, police said. He then darted into the left lane and tailgated another vehicle, the NYPD said. After that vehicle didn't move, Polanco shifted back between the two police vehicles in the right lane, hitting the brakes and forcing the NYPD vehicles to slow down, sources said.
Cops turned on their lights and sirens and attempted to pull Polanco's car over, sources said. The NYPD vehicles positioned themselves in front of and behind the Honda until it finally came to a stop at Exit 7 near LaGuardia Airport, police said. Two cops — a uniformed sergeant and a detective — came out of the police vehicle in front of the Honda and approached the vehicle.
As Det. Hassan Hamdy approached on the passenger side of Polanco's car, he saw Polanco reach down and grab an object that appeared to be a power tool, sources said. Hamdy fired a single shot through the passenger window into Polanco's abdomen, sources said.
The last quote gives the police's official story. Notice that there is always some kind of excuse: the police shooting victim is "reaching" for something. And that something often turns out to be non-threatening, a wallet, a candy bar, in this case, even the police are citing an object not likely to be used at that instance --don't power drills need power, have they ascertained that the drill in Polanco's hand, pointed at the officer? Not even that much was in the police's excuse. When Polanco's passenger is quoted, we hear that his hands were on the steering wheel, and that this shooting could be a road rage incident on the police detective's part.
"Noel didn't have a chance to put his hands up. They screamed, 'Put up your hands!' and shot at the same time," said Diane DeFerrari, 36, a bartender who was riding in the front passenger seat, according to the New York Daily News. "It was simultaneous. There was a pop and Noel gasped."
Sources said DeFerrari told investigators that Polanco's hands were on the wheel when Hamdy shot him.
"They acted in pure road rage," DeFerrari told the newspaper.
The rest of DNAinfo's story can be read here. Here is the Daily News's report on the story.

Parallels to another tragic shooting by the police
This story has echoes of another very questionable police shooting this year. In Feburary police in the Bronx trailed Ramarley Graham to his home, and shot him when he was inside. The Socialist Worker reported,
On February 2, 18-year-old Ramarley Linden Graham was shot and killed by New York City police officer Richard Haste in the bathroom of the home where he lived in the Bronx.
Graham's grandmother, Gwendolyn Henry, and 6-year-old brother, Chinnor Campbell, watched in horror as officers broke down the door of their home, cornered Graham in the bathroom and shot him in the chest. Henry was then dragged off to the NYPD's 47th Precinct--where, after the shock and trauma of watching officers kill her beloved grandson, she was subjected to seven hours of interrogation.
Predictably, police claim the officers thought Graham had a gun, but admit now he was unarmed. Police also say they were in "hot pursuit" of Graham, but surveillance video disproves this, too--Graham can be seen walking at a leisurely pace, entering his home and closing the door behind him before Haste and his supervisor, Sgt. Scott Morris, force their way in.
More than three months have passed, and Ramarley Graham's family is still waiting for answers and demanding that police be held accountable for murdering their son.
The rest of Socialist Worker's article can be read here.

As reported in the Nation magazine, Graham's case has been a cause for community mobilization. With the shooting of Polanco, there is another occasion for the community to mobilize against police violence. Where and when will this stop? Why are the out of control police reactions in response to encounters with you men of color?

Ray Kelly's NYPD has a lot of explaining to do on a range of issues: whether it is billing a dead man's family for a dented NYPD vehicle --that caused the man's death (it also made the news in Cincinnati press!), or for the harassment of press at the Occupy Wall Street: "Journalists: NPPA Sends Letter To Ray Kelly Denouncing Police Abuse Of The Press."
(The NPPA's general counsel wrote to Kelly:
It is our strongly asserted position that while the press may not have a greater right of access than the public, they have no less right either...Given these ongoing issues and incidents we believe that more is needed in order to improve police-press relations and to clarify the ability of credentialed and non-credentialed journalists to photograph and record on public streets without fear of intimidation and arrest. Therefore, we urge you meet with us once again so that we may help devise a better system of education and training for department members starting from the top down.) Additionally, AlterNet reported, September 27, 2012, that "The NYPD has expanded into a massive global anti-terror operation with surveillance and military capabilities unparalled in the history of local US law enforcement."

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