The father of Saheed Vassell has called out the NYPD over his son’s tragic death.
Vassell’s father, Eric, admits he always felt as though his son would die at the hands of the department. Vassell was a community staple in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights area. While suffering from bipolar disorder, he was described as harmless by residents, but on Wednesday (Apr. 4) three 911 calls claimed Vassell was pointing what appeared to be a gun at bystanders. The object turned out to be a metal pipe, but officers on the scene fired ten rounds at the 35-year-old.
“We were always worried for him,” Eric told the New York Daily News. “We would say should anything happen to him, we just have to do what we can do.” Footage of Vassell with the pipe has been released, but it hasn’t stopped residents from calling out the NYPD for their practices. Mr. Vassell could not fathom why police found it imperative to shoot to kill. “Why shoot to kill?” he said. “Are you so afraid that you have to take his life?”
“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,” said 40-year-old Jaccbot Hinds told reporters. He added that officers jumped out of an unmarked car and fired without warning. It was confirmed later that three plainclothes and two uniformed officers arrived at the scene.
The Brooklyn community, primarily at the intersection of Utica and Montgomery, has faced great unrest since witnessing the death of one of their own. Vassell’s death has also called into question if this tragedy is a result of the rapidly-gentrifying community at large.
Everyone in the community knew Saheed Vassell. When we tell you gentrification is violence this is just another example. The same white gentrifiers calling the police on Black men smoking weed in Harlem, called the police on Saheed. https://t.co/Y2m7JyqUU4
— Achmat X (@AchmatX) April 5, 2018
While Vassell struggled with bipolar disorder and refused to seek treatment for it, everyone in the community described him as non-violent. According to the New York Times, prior to his death police even described him as an “emotionally disturbed person” given their previous encounters.
One of Vassell’s old lovers, who asked to stay anonymous, became emotional when a New Yorker reporter asked her about the incident. “I lived with that man. I know his son, Tyshawn, from a baby age till now, you understand? He’s not a violent person. If you trying to disarm somebody that you believe have a gun—ten rounds? Ten rounds? Ten rounds? Be honest, ten rounds?”
Her comments fell in line with those of Vassell’s 15-year-old Tyshawn as he struggled to find a justification for the actions of the police. Tyshawn solemnly admitted that “this is what our society has come to”.
Many of the accounts from people in the community remain the same. They tell a story of a loving father and a man who despite his personal issues became a pillar in the community for being himself.