‘Another black man dead’: C’Heights locals mourn their neighbor shot to death by cops at charged demonstration

Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Photo gallery

Outpouring: Huge crowds gathered for a vigil on Thursday at the interesction where cops gunned down Vassell the day before.
Spotlight: Brooklyn resident Clinton Dyer’s passionate outburst at the vigil pulled the attention of the crowd and media away from event speakers.
Speaking up: Yaa Asantevaa addresses the crowd.
Sign of the times: Protestors waved signs honoring Vassell and decrying the NYPD at Thursday’s protests.

A massive crowd formed in Crown Heights on Thursday at a vigil that quickly turned into an anti-cop protest on the street corner where police the day earlier gunned down a man brandishing a metal pipe like a pistol.

One Brooklynite who blasted New York Finest as executioners in an impromptu tirade that attending journalists rushed to document said seeing other furious mourners inspired his harsh critique.

“I was in the moment,” said Clinton Dyer, who lives in Brownsville. “I just felt the anger in the community, and the upset about what was going on. They’re not hearing us — our voices aren’t being heard.”

Four officers opened fire on Saheed Vassell at the corner of Utica Avenue and Montgomery Street on Wednesday, in response to three separate 911 reports of a man threatening bystanders with what observers said appeared to be a gun.

The next day, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit opened a probe into the Police Department because of the incident.

Hours before the Thursday afternoon demonstration, authorities released surveillance footage of Vassell — a 34-year-old Crown Heights resident whose family said had a history of mental illness — that shows him approaching men, women, and children on the street while wielding the pipe as if it were a pistol.

But the video — which cops released along with 911 transcripts that quoted callers and a dispatcher saying Vassell was pointing what looked like a gun at passersby — did little to soothe the raw nerves of the deceased’s grieving friends, many of whom accused police of a shoot first, ask questions later mentality.

“I wasn’t there, but there was no gun,” said Sander Cameau, a life-long Crown Heights resident and longtime friend of Vassell. “They had no right to kill him — at all.”

Others criticized authorities’ immediate release of the footage and transcripts as a thinly veiled propaganda tactic and poor excuse for killing a man not holding a firearm.

“They are trying to use it to influence the community,” said Crown Heights local, Chris, who refused to give his last name. “Yes he has mental issues, yes he’s bipolar, but this was uncalled for.”

The neighborhood’s state Senator — who called for an investigation into the deadly shooting after it occurred, and helped plan the vigil — demanded Police Department brass better educate trainees on how to respond to mental-health-related incidents during his turn at the podium, where the dead man’s parents Eric and Lorna Vassell joined him.

“Having a mental-health problem should not be a death sentence,” Jesse Hamilton told the audience.

And although many vocally expressed anger before the crowd, some participants stayed quiet as they were overcome with grief at the sudden loss of a friend.

“He was a humble person, he didn’t bother nobody,” said Nicole Williams, another Crown Heights resident. “It’s so sad. Another black man dead, that’s all it is.”

Protestors remained on the scene long after the original vigil’s 4:40 pm start time — which coincided with the time police gave for Vassell’s shooting — with many taking to the streets come sundown in a march to the local 71st Precinct’s station house on Empire Boulevard, where they picketed with signs declaring “Justice for Saheed” and “Abolish the NYPD.”

The Brooklynite’s death at the hands of police came just weeks after California cops shot and killed an unarmed black man at his home while responding to a vandalism complaint.

And the city plans to fully cooperate with Schneiderman’s ongoing probe, according to the mayor, who called Vassell’s death “a tragedy by any measure,” but did not attend Thursday’s demonstration.

“We’re going to be as transparent as we can, understanding there will be a full and formal investigat­ion,” said Mayor DeBlasio.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:46 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Fred from Windsor Terrace says:
The protesters are trying to make the facts fit their politics. Another exercise in propaganda.
April 9, 2018, 8:14 am
Tyler from pps says:
I'll just copy and paste my comment from the other day...

Shoot first, ask questions later.

The NYPD is TERRIBLY TRAINED. Our "heroes in blue" don't have the skills (or interest) in deescalating situations, just neutralizing the situation through the power of bullets.

Why o' why in major cities around the world are there police who deal with the same sorts of situations, but don't need to discharge a firearm?

This is a police problem.

I don't care if this was a pipe or a actual gun... Police pulling their guns out as the *first resort* has to stop.

America *can* learn from other places. Being special is not always a good thing.
April 9, 2018, 9:32 am
Frank from Furter says:
Tyler the NYPD are not taught to fire first but when you get a report of a man with a gun and you drive up and someone takes a combat stance pointing something with a barrel at you you fire until the threat is ended. The NYPD shoots less and less each year. In the other places bad guys have less guns. It's just a fact of life...and death here that there too many guns. We teach our police that if there is a report of a gun to go in and end the situation as quickly as possible to save innocent lives. You can't have it both ways when they do.
April 9, 2018, 9:59 am
Frank from Furter says:
I am sorry he is dead. I am sorry he didn't get good mental health treatment before and was not placed into this situation. But that doesn't change what the police did as being wrong
Reasonable people can disagree on the problem and the solution
April 9, 2018, 10:06 am
Carnen from Ft Greene says:
How many people take to the streets to thank the NYPD when they save lives? Get the bad guys on the loose? Talk suicides down from a window ledge? Deliver babies on the subway? You look at the pictures of the guy and can twll he's not wielding a gun? If the guy had been white, Sharpton wouldn't have a problem.
April 9, 2018, 10:36 am
Homey from Crooklyn says:
LOL at Tyler the backseat driver...
If he would have been there as a responder he would have downloaded a massive dump into his
April 9, 2018, 2:53 pm
Tony's Pizza from Crown Heights says:
I've seen the photos of these demonstrations, and there are far too many lily white faces in the crowd. Utica and Montgomery isn't "gentrifier territory." Maybe one day it will be, but it ain't for now. Someone should put a scrap book together of all the shootings that have gone down on Utica, from Atlantic down to Empire, and along Montgomery from Utica down to the Botanical Garden. You'd have been a fool not to call the police on this fellow. The only shame is that all these folks don't do this kind of demonstration every time a young man is shot or stabbed outside a bodega in this area, every time an elderly person is turned into collateral damage by a stray bullet, every time the "shot stopper" radar goes off in this area. No coincidences here.
April 9, 2018, 6:50 pm
adamben from bedstuy says:
And if he was white they police would have bought him mcdonalds, like the parkland shooter.

time to stop the war on african americans. train the police and fire them for murder, at the very least, along with thier pension.
April 10, 2018, 8:03 am

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: