Everybody Wants a Piece of Kimani Gray

How a boy's death became street theater in Flatbush

Both Quinter and Kyanna said they were ambivalent about their role as outsiders at the protest. "That's why I didn't come last night, because I wasn't sure I had anything to offer," Quinter said. "I think we need to try to identify community leaders who want to build up power in the community, and take their direction. And not these fake-ass community leaders who are just collaborators with the police, but somebody who actually has a genuine interest in defending against police violence."

Suddenly, a commotion exploded on the sidewalk. Shamar Thomas, a huge man in a camouflage jacket and Martin Luther King sweatshirt, was bellowing at a pair of white twentysomethings, a small woman and a tall, lanky man, who had been talking a little too loudly about killing police. The cop-killer talk didn't sit well with Thomas, a former Marine who gained a small measure of fame for standing up to police violence during Occupy Wall Street. He pointed a little digital video camera at the two, shouting "These are the people telling people to kill police in our neighborhood!" As Thomas brought his imposing frame close to the plainly terrified subjects of his wrath, they hastily masked up, pulling bandannas up over their faces. The stream of marchers began to snag around the conflict, people bunching around Thomas and the supposed cop-killers like kids around a playground fight. In the long column of police pacing the protesters just off the sidewalk, some of the junior officers hesitated, glancing at each other, wondering if they ought to intervene. "Let them fight among themselves," a senior officer said.

The two white protesters skedaddled, and Thomas carried on with the march. "The little homies from around here are so excited, but ain't nobody doing court support for them," he said. "Ain't nobody putting nothing in their commissary. And you're gonna come here and incite shit? Get the fuck out of my neighborhood with that." (Thomas, a two-tour Iraq veteran and recent Survivor contestant, is from Nassau County.)

Far left: activist Fatimah Shakur and Kimani Gray’s cousin Joe Holder.
Alan Chin
Far left: activist Fatimah Shakur and Kimani Gray’s cousin Joe Holder.
Shamar Thomas, a former Marine, clashed with other protesters.
Alan Chin
Shamar Thomas, a former Marine, clashed with other protesters.
Frustrated police pause after a young man they had chased for more than a block outran them and got away on March 13.
Alan Chin
Frustrated police pause after a young man they had chased for more than a block outran them and got away on March 13.
On March 14, young people from the neighborhood stood off to the side as protesters demonstrated near the 67th Precinct.
Alan Chin
On March 14, young people from the neighborhood stood off to the side as protesters demonstrated near the 67th Precinct.

The squabble eventually carried over into the next day, as a new Fire Next Time post called out Thomas, along with Williams and others, as "tentacles of the empire," declaring, "anarchists and (ultra-left) communists cannot let racial pimps like Thomas bully them with reformists politics. As long as that occurs, non-Black militants will never get respect in the hood." Thomas fired back in the post's comment section, setting off a lengthy flame war. "Y'all on some division BS," he wrote. "I'll smack the shit out of y'all. And if y'all want war we can do that too. Fuck you if you oppose me. I'm around. Y'all all mouth. If y'all wanna meet and bang let's do it. Y'all punks."

The 67th Precinct and the church where the community meeting had been called are only a few blocks apart. After half an hour of fierce bickering, the crowd started marching together in the same direction anyway, picking up speed as it headed west. An older man from the neighborhood, walking upstream through the marchers, was bemused. "Lot of these are white people," he said to himself. Asked by a reporter whether he thought that was a good or a bad thing, he shook his head. "It's weird."

The arguments about direction flared up all over again when the protesters finally reached the storefront church. "If you're here for the community, go in the church," instructed a clergyman allied with Williams. "Don't believe this hype!" shouted Fatimah Shakur, urging the crowd on to the precinct. Only a handful of people, mostly older, went into the church. "All y'all that's going to the precinct, if any of our youth go and get incarcerated tonight, y'all accountable," warned Kenny Carter of FAITH. "What I'm saying, bro, y'all buggin' out," Jose LaSalle, the anti-stop-and-frisk activist, responded. "You gotta listen to the people."

Inside the mostly empty church, the conversation was unstructured and prone to meandering and grandstanding. Outside, near the precinct on the corner of Snyder and Nostrand, the remaining activists chanted at the police from behind a metal barricade. Someone threw a bottle, but the cops didn't take the bait. Off to the side, a handful of young black men hung back. They leaned against a wall, hoodies pulled over their heads, and watched the scene unfold.

npinto@villagevoice.com

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