New York — “We will not be silent and we will not be silenced!” was the theme of the Dec. 8 dinner in honor of Ramarley Graham, held in the packed to overflowing Service Employees 1199 auditorium in New York City. The 18-year-old African American was ruthlessly gunned down in the bathroom of his Bronx home by a NYC cop on Feb. 2.
Ever since, Graham’s parents, Constance Malcolm, a member of SEIU 1199, and Franclot Graham, and their friends and neighbors in their outraged community have fought tirelessly for justice for their son. Only after seven months of marches to and rallies at the local precinct was Officer Richard Haste indicted on first- and second-degree manslaughter on Sept. 13. A member of a street narcotics team that illegally entered the Graham home, Haste claimed he shot the youth because he thought Graham had a gun — though none was found.
Since then, four other innocent people of color have been gunned down by the New York Police Department: Shantel Davis while driving on June 15; Reynaldo Cuevas fleeing a robbery at the bodega where he worked on Sept. 7; Mohamed Bah for “acting strangely” in his home on Sept. 25; and Noel Polanco after being pulled over on a Queens highway on Oct. 4.
Aware that their son’s murder was part of a pattern of police terror throughout the U.S., Malcolm and Graham devoted the dinner to a call for “justice for Ramarley Graham and all victims of police abuse” and invited 11 families in the New York area to talk about their loved ones and their struggle to win justice.
“We must make Mayor Bloomberg, Police Chief Kelly and the entire NYPD accountable for all the deaths that are unjust,” said Malcolm.
“We are fighting not just for Ramarley, but for all kids who were killed. We have to stand together.” Graham added, “Ramarley’s call is against violence. We’re here with all the families to continue the fight for justice for all.”
Among the speakers, each describing the heartbreaking loss they have suffered and their determination to keep struggling, were Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., who recounted his continuing fight to have the cops indicted who shot his ailing father on Nov. 19, 2011; and Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five, who continues to fight for reparations after a wrongful conviction in 1990 and exoneration in 2002. Each speaker received a plaque from Malcolm and a standing ovation.
Perhaps the speaker who moved the crowd the most was Nicole Bell, whose husband-to-be Sean Bell was murdered only hours before the wedding on Nov. 25, 2006. Also a member of 1199, Bell recounted how Malcolm called to ask how she was doing. “You deserve an award for all you do for all of us,” said Bell, which brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation.
“Our struggle has to go beyond rallies and programs like this,” said Bell. “We have to hold everyone accountable. Let’s take this and build something that lasts forever. Enough is enough. We need real change. We need to stand together and get this done.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Cornel West, City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, Assemblymember Carl Heastie and Minister Hafeez Muhammad of Mosque No. 7 also lent their voices to the call for justice.
Attorney Royce Russell asked the audience to pack the Bronx Criminal Courthouse on Dec. 11 during a hearing for Haste and then gather afterwards at the family home for a protest. For more information, visit Ramarleyscall.org.