Commentary: There Remains a Need for Justice in the Ramarley Graham Case

A Bronx judge has dismissed manslaughter charges against a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager, with many calling it a miscarriage.

Posted: 05/16/2013 05:05 PM EDT

There was something haunting about the moment in the Bronx courtroom when the decision was announced regarding the charges against the police officer who shot and killed Ramarley Graham. As the judge dismissed the manslaughter charges against the officer, Constance Malcolm, the mother of the dead 18-year-old, shrieked in grief and shouted so heatedly at the judge that she was removed from the courtroom.


“I am angry and cannot express my feelings alone,” she said, speaking to reporters afterward. “I am ready to take it to the streets and the highest of the highest. Please be prepared for a major protest.” She was later hospitalized after the emotion of the experience.

Acting Justice Steven Barrett, of the State Supreme Court of New York, said in his ruling that the prosecution failed to give precise instructions to the grand jury that indicted Richard Haste, the police officer who faced manslaughter charges.

The judge further explained that the members of the grand jury were not provided sufficient information that Haste had been told that the teenage Graham might have been carrying a weapon. “With not great pleasure, I’m obliged in this case to dismiss the charges.”

There remains a huge problem here. An 18-year-old young man is now dead, killed by an overzealous police officer who soon discovered that Graham was unarmed. With the justice’s decision, no one has yet been held accountable for the death of this young man.

Meanwhile, a host of questions are looming in this case. Why would the officers follow the teenager in his neighborhood in the Bronx, just as he walked out of a small bodega? Why would they assume he was carrying a weapon of some kind? Why did they decide to pursue him to his apartment building, busting down the door of his apartment to follow him into his bathroom and shoot him in the chest? What was the need for such an extreme pursuit, as though the teenager was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list of dangerous criminals?

More troubling was the fact that Haste had not received the classroom training that is required of officers who work in the police department’s street narcotics unit. To the family and the neighbors in the community of the Bronx, the killing of Graham is yet another example of the overzealous and impulsive manner in which young African-American men are pursued by the police, in this case a white officer.

It would be a travesty if this matter were to end with nothing more than the remorse of the judge and the police officer being taken off the modified duty to which he was assigned after the killing more than a year ago.

It would now be most fitting for the Bronx District Attorney’s office to appeal the decision or even to bring new charges in the case, which it is entitled to do. It would not only serve the cause of justice, but would also bring some small sense of fairness to Constance Malcolm and so many other mothers and fathers who have lost their young children to the reckless and feverish impact of police misconduct that has become far too common.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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