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White Plains, N.Y., cop guns down heart patient in his home

Published Apr 12, 2012 10:18 PM

Yet another killing of an innocent Black man by police – this time, the very man the police had been called to assist – exposes the racist criminality of the entire police state in the U.S. As communities of color and anti-racist activists mobilize for marches on April 9 and April 10, demands for justice for Trayvon Martin are augmented by cries for justice for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.

Chamberlain, a 68-year-old African-American Marine veteran with a heart condition, wore a pendant that notified the LifeAid medical alert system if he was having heart problems. On Nov. 19, that pendant was accidentally triggered, presumably as Chamberlain was sleeping. When a LifeAid operator tried to contact Chamberlain to see if he was O.K. and received no response, the operator contacted the police and requested that they check on him at his apartment in a White Plains public housing project.

Perhaps Chamberlain’s experience as a 20-year veteran of the Westchester County Department of Corrections gave him some added insight as to how cops treat people of color. Whatever the case may be, when police arrived at his apartment, he refused to open the door, telling them that he was fine and that they should go away. The cops wouldn’t back off.

In the days following the incident, the police claimed that they heard banging in the apartment and were concerned that someone was being hurt. However, an audio recording device had been installed in Chamberlain’s home as part of the medical alert system, and the entire interaction between Chamberlain and the cops was recorded.

Cops taunt man before lynching him

Rather than show concern for anyone’s safety, the racist mob of cops can be heard taunting the 68-year-old man, laughing at his service in the Marines and joking that they had to get into his apartment to use the bathroom. When Chamberlain told cops that he was “a sick old man,” one cop responded, “We don’t give a f—k, n——-.”

As more police cars arrived at the housing complex and cops drew their guns in front of Chamberlain’s door, Chamberlain’s niece — who lives in an apartment in the same building as Chamberlain — offered to intervene. The LifeAid operator, who had called in the cops in the first place and was now listening to the exchange as it was happening, called the White Plains police and tried desperately to cancel the call for emergency help. Both requests were ignored.

A video recorded by a camera mounted on a Taser gun provides further documentation of the night. According to the family’s lawyer Mayo Bartlett, who viewed the recording at the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, cops used a special device to tear down Chamberlain’s door. As the door falls, the video shows Chamberlain standing in the apartment, with his hands down and empty. He is wearing nothing but boxer shorts.

Bartlett recounted to reporters: “The minute they got into the house, they didn’t even give him one command. They never mentioned, ‘Put your hands up.’ They never told him to lay down on the bed. They never did any of that. The first thing they did, as soon as that door was finally broken off the hinges, you could see the Taser light up, and it was charged, and you could see it going directly toward him.” The tape ends with someone telling the cop holding the Taser to turn the camera off. (New York Daily News, April 4)

Cops claim at that point Chamberlain wielded a knife at them, requiring them to shoot in self-defense. That’s after the infirm Chamberlain had already been hit with a high-voltage Taser. Cops then fired and hit him with two 40-caliber rounds. Chamberlain died from his wounds several hours later.

After an initial cover-up, in which the White Plains public safety commissioner declared that all the police officers’ actions were justified, the city was forced to convene a grand jury investigation and reveal the names of the cops involved as outrage grew and a petition for justice garnered some 200,000 signatures. A New York grand jury is set to meet on April 11.

Progressive reporter Juan Gonzalez dug up the cops’ names, more than four months after the November killing, and exposed that one of them, named as the shooter, already faces charges over allegations of excessive force and Civil Rights violations. Officer Anthony Carelli is being sued, along with six other police officers, by twin brothers Jereis Hatter and Salameh Hatter, who assert that cops handcuffed them to a pole at a White Plains police station and savagely beat and kicked them. The twins, who are Jordanian immigrants, say Carelli was the most vicious of the cops and called them “ragheads.” (NY Daily News, April 6)

However, the killing of Chamberlain, along with the killings of so many other men of color at the hands of police and racist vigilantes empowered by the police, shows that the problem is not one of a few “bad apples” in police departments around the country. The entire police system is racist to the core, criminalizing people of color simply for existing.

The wholesale incarceration of people of color in the prison-industrial complex, the daily harassment of Black and Brown youth by cops on the streets, and the outright killing of innocent people of color demands justice and an end to the racist police state as a whole.