The Police Shooting of Saheed Vassell

By Lisa Cabrera


In light of Clark’s killing, which sparked weeks of protests, California lawmakers have proposed a drastic change that would limit the scenarios in which police officers can use deadly force. The bill would replace the “reasonable force” rule with a stricter “necessary force” standard.

New York City police officers shot and killed a black man who was known to be mentally ill on a Brooklyn street corner on Wednesday afternoon after he pointed what the officers believed was a gun at them, the authorities said. The object, however, turned out to be a metal pipe with a knob on it.

“Let’s play out the scenario had it been different,” he said. “If this individual with a loaded weapon, who for whatever reason, including a mental health challenge, was ready to use it, that’s a split-second matter of trying to save lives right then and there.

“He was a good father. He wasn’t a bad person. No matter how they want to spin it, he wasn’t a bad person,” Smith said. “Too many black people are dying at hands of police officers and it’s about time something be done.”

Critics say the cops should’ve asked him to raise his hands before firing, or at least aimed for his leg. But the video suggests the officers had scant time to react; they were told he had a weapon and believed they saw one — pointing straight at them. They had every right to defend themselves. (As for aiming at his leg, cops only do that in movies; the risk of missing is too great.)

Vassell’s death comes amid a resurgence of questions about law enforcement’s unequal treatment of people of color following another police shooting recently in Sacramento, California. Police there said they thought Stephon Clark had a gun, but only a cell phone was found near his body.

New York’s Finest are on the hot seat again after four officers fatally shot an unarmed Brooklyn man, Saheed Vassell, on Wednesday. They don’t deserve it — but the city mental-health system does.

An employee at a beauty salon on the corner, Angie, 52, said she heard the police fire and then saw the man drop. She said the police then fired several more shots before they ran over to the man and handcuffed him.

“I heard all these shots, I thought it was firecrackers at first. I turned around and you just see the cops standing over the guy,” witness Chris J. said. “First it was one, then it was nonstop after that.”

Near the end of the video, Vassell can be seen approaching an intersection and pointing the object toward the street. The image freezes and text states, “At this point, responding officers discharged their weapon.”

After the shooting, officers discovered that the object was “a pipe with some sort of knob on it,” Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan said at a news conference.

The officers were responding to calls of a man using a gun to terrorize folks, including an adult with a kid. When they got to the scene, Vassell, as video shows, took what police called “a two-handed shooting stance” and pointed the “gun” at the cops.

“It appears we fired 10 rounds between the four officers,” Monahan said. The unidentified officers, who were not wearing body cameras, discovered the metal pipe at the scene.

“They just hopped out of the car. It’s almost like they did a hit. They didn’t say please. They didn’t say put your hands up, nothing,” Hinds said.

“We were always worried for him. We would say should anything happen to him, we just have to do what we can do,” he said.