Everybody Wants a Piece of Kimani Gray

How a boy's death became street theater in Flatbush

While the lefty Internet was busy devouring itself, other rumors were flying: The NYPD had effectively declared martial law in East Flatbush, one insisted, establishing a "frozen zone" in the neighborhood, locking it down and preventing journalists and anyone from outside the neighborhood from getting in. Breathless bulletins on the frozen zone, heavy on the exclamation marks, zipped through social media networks, buttressed by links to newsy-sounding—if unsourced—reports on websites. As it turned out, the rumor was false. The frozen zone existed only in the imagination of its critics.

The mainstream political metabolizing of the Kimani uproar was also underway. Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio visited East Flatbush to appeal for calm. John Liu, another mayoral candidate, stridently called for a public investigation of the shooting, telling New York magazine, "We cannot rely on the quick reassurances that officers acted within guidelines when there are many unanswered questions. That this teenager was shot in the back is disturbing and demands answers." Both candidates were implicitly positioning themselves in relation to presumed mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn, who as speaker has prevented City Council from passing meaningful police reform and hinted she'd keep Ray Kelly as commissioner if she's elected. Pushed by reporters for her own comment on the Flatbush shooting, Quinn released a statement calling on New Yorkers to "work collectively to end gun violence." (She has since let it be known she might agree to an Inspector General for the NYPD—a new stance for her.)

City Councilmembers Williams and Barron held nearly simultaneous press conferences Thursday afternoon, each politician having secured one of the dead boy's parents to take part. Dressed head to toe in black, Carol Gray appeared next to Barron in his district office as they spoke to reporters. Sitting next to her in a Nehru jacket, under a portrait of Malcolm X, Barron distinguished his message from those simply calling for calm. "Our call is for justice," he said. "The best way to stop violence in our community is that we get justice. No pleas for peace is gonna do it."

Jose LaSalle, an anti-stop-and-frisk activist, was blamed by local leaders for stirring up neighborhood youth
Alan Chin
Jose LaSalle, an anti-stop-and-frisk activist, was blamed by local leaders for stirring up neighborhood youth
Protesters chanting on Church Avenue on March 14
Alan Chin
Protesters chanting on Church Avenue on March 14

Blocks away, Jumaane Williams held his own press conference, backed by clergymen and community leaders. Kimani's father stood behind Williams, allowing the councilman to speak for him. "He's not happy with what's happening," Williams told the cameras. "He's not happy with the violence that's occurring. He's not happy with us destroying ourselves."

Williams had sent a conciliatory text message that morning to Jose LaSalle, the Harlem-based anti-stop-and-frisk activist who was one of the primary targets of the councilman's angry tweets from the night before. "We both know that we both are going to do what we are going to do," he wrote. "Please give me a call anyway." It didn't have the desired effect. A few minutes into Williams's press conference, with cameras rolling and journalists from every major outlet in the city on hand, LaSalle hijacked the event. "This is a police brutality issue," he shouted over Williams, as reporters' heads and cameras whirled to find him in the crowd. "It's not a community issue!" Williams struggled to reclaim control, but when the evening news stories came out, they focused on the interruption, and even The New York Times devoted much of its story to the ensuing free-for-all.

Patrons of a nearby West Indian restaurant shook their heads when NY1's report on the press conference came on the television. All over 30, they agreed that the nightly youth disturbances were unwise, bad for the neighborhood, and certain to make no impact on the police. But they also believed that Gray didn't have a gun when he was shot, that the revolver he was supposedly carrying was really an NYPD "drop gun," produced afterward to justify the killing. That belief is common among people of all ages in East Flatbush, as is the rumor that there is a yet-to-surface video shot by a neighbor that shows the real circumstances of Gray's death.

On Thursday evening, a crowd of a couple hundred once again gathered on Church and 55th in anticipation of a fourth night of protest. Many of the neighborhood kids arrested the previous night were still locked up, but a steady stream of visitors poured in. Walking from the subway past the gold-buyers and beauty-supply stores of Church Avenue, two young men wearing backpacks urgently discussed the role of the petty bourgeoisie in propping up capitalism. A peculiar pre-game air of anticipation hovered over the corner at 55th Street, as police, media, and protesters of every stripe shuffled in the cold, waiting for something to happen.

The crowd began to argue loudly about whether to follow the wishes of Williams and head over to a meeting at the New Horizon Gospel Ministries to talk things over, or to march to the precinct once again. The disagreement got heated. Kenny Carter, a member of Fathers Alive in the Hood (FAITH), a group that was advocating for calm, had brought a megaphone, and was bellowing his own position on the question. "This guy sucks!" said Sarah Quinter, a white activist standing at the fringe of the crowd. "People keep saying he's from Queens." Standing next to her, Shyam Kyanna nodded in agreement. "Sometimes I really hate the left," he said.

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