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Community outraged over death of Ernest Prather

NYC police kill another unarmed Black man

By Michelle Quintus
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Police terror continued here Aug. 27 when cops from the 79th Precinct in the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, shot and killed Ernest Prather, a 39-year-old African American man. Residents who knew him described him as an intelligent, nonviolent man who rode a bicycle around the neighborhood.

Just before the killing, Prather had been volunteering at a church that serves food to the homeless on Tuesdays, the "So Great a Salvation Ministries" located at 345 Franklin Ave. Police were called to the church after a verbal dispute over some juice. Laura Prather had suggested to her husband that the argument was "not worth it" and that he should leave to cool off.

When Prather tried to return to the church at 2:49 p.m., he was met by four cops with their guns drawn on the corner of Franklin and Greene avenues. He lifted up his T-shirt to reveal a bright orange plastic squirt gun in his waistband. Many witnesses say he never even reached for the toy many residents carry on hot summer days to keep cool.

A witness who identified himself as Mr. Carey, who has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years, said Prather kept repeating, "Look, this is not a gun; this is not a gun," with his hands raised. Then, Carey said, the cops started shooting.

All witnesses to the shooting reported six to 10 shots to the abdomen.

When this reporter arrived at the scene just minutes before 3 p.m., Prather's body lay motionless on the sidewalk surrounded by six police vehicles. His eyeglass case was there, but no "realistic-looking toy gun," as cops described it, was present anywhere on the sidewalk or near Prather's body.

Meanwhile, cops were pushing witnesses--including Laura Prather and many neighborhood children--back with loaded guns. Outraged community members shouted, "Diallo" and "You can't go around killing Black men."

Witnesses were pointing at the man they called the shooter, who had already removed his badge and the top of his uniform to be unidentifiable.

An ambulance arrived shortly after 3 p.m., late enough for Prather to bleed to death. Contrary to police reports that say he died later at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, Prather was taken from the scene of his murder in a body bag, as evidenced by a Daily News photo of Aug. 28 and many witnesses.

By 3:05 p.m., all witnesses had been pushed back to where they could not see the crime scene. Community residents were not allowed within two blocks of the shooting for hours, even to go home.

Prather's killers were taken to a nearby hospital and, according to the Aug. 28 New York Times, treated for "trauma."

Later that night, Laura Prather, along with her husband's friends and community members, lit a single white candle in his honor on the corner of Franklin and Greene avenues where he had died.

At this spontaneous street corner memorial, one outraged resident, Zukirah Brown, said: "We're all tired of the police brutality against Black people. I'm tired of the cops shooting down Black men. It's got to end. ... It's got to end now."

Reprinted from the Sept. 12, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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