New York police officers shot and killed a man on Wednesday after receiving calls stating he was brandishing a gun on a Brooklyn street corner. Saheed Vassell, who was actually carrying a metal pipe, was the 34-year-old father of a teenage son, and a black man living with bipolar disorder. His death came less than three weeks after the shooting of Stephon Clark, who was shot to death for carrying a cellphone in his own backyard.
NYPD Police Chief Terence Monahan spoke about the incident in a press conference that day, where he confirmed details about the situation.
Around 4:40 pm, the police received several 911 calls about a black man in a brown jacket who was pointing a silver gun at passerby.
“There’s a guy walking around the street, he looks like he’s crazy,” said one caller according to partial transcripts the department released on Thursday. “But he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun and he’s like popping it as if like if he’s pulling the trigger.”
As officers arrived at the scene, they saw Vassell “brandishing what [appeared] to be a firearm, pointing it at people,” Monahan said. Footage released by the NYPD corroborates this claim and shows Vassell waving the object around and pointing it at civilians.
Monahan explained that “The suspect then took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers.” This prompted four of the five officers there to draw their weapons and fire at Vassell. They fired a total of 10 rounds altogether.
None of the officers were wearing body cameras, so Monahan used images from security cameras to back up his story. According to him, the officers immediately provided medical aid to Vassell, who was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead.
Saheed Vassell was well known around the neighborhood according to locals during interviews with local news reporters. Family members and locals told reporters that Vassell’s mental illness was well known to local police and shopkeepers. One shopkeeper referred to him as “harmless”.
“Everybody knows him, and everybody knows he’s sick,” said a stylist at the beauty salon across the street. The stylist also said Vassell was known to help out around the shops for tips.
John Fuller had known Vassell for years and claimed that the cops should have known him well enough not to shoot him. “Every cop in this neighborhood knows him,” John Fuller told the New York Times. The police said Saheed had been arrested before and was classified as an emotionally disturbed person.
Monahan defended the officers’ actions, saying the calls made no indication that they were dealing with someone who was mentally ill. “This was not an EDP [Emotionally Disturbed Person] call,’ he said. “This was a call of a man pointing what 911 callers said they felt was a gun.”
Yet, people were still outraged at the treatment of this young black man by the city police.
Jacobo Hinds, 40, witnessed the shooting and told the New York Daily News that the officers barely hesitated after exiting their unmarked vehicle. “They just hopped out of the car. It’s almost like they did a hit,” Hinds said. “They didn’t say please. They didn’t say put your hands up, nothing.”
An employee at a beauty salon on the corner, Angie, 52, said she heard the shots and saw the man drop to the ground. She claims the police continued to fire before they ran over and handcuffed him.
Later that Wednesday, residents and Black Lives Matter protesters gathered at the scene of the crime to protest.
“Police always have a choice,” Eric Vassell, Saheed Vassell’s father, told Eyewitness News. “They should not train them to kill. They should train them to protect life, to save life.”
Vassell’s aunt, Nora Ford, went the corner where Saheed was shot to “touch the blood where he died,” the New York Daily News reported. “It’s a piece of iron and they kill him for a piece of iron,” Ford told the newspaper. “I bet if he was a white kid, they wouldn’t fire a shot at him like that.”