Spontaneous Combustion


Tempers started to flare in front of the 79th Precinct police station in Bed-Stuy on Saturday afternoon (April 3) when an angry group of 15 people stood face to face with about 10 cops. “Why don’t you stay in your own neighborhoods and kill your own kids!” yelled one of the protesters. “Our kids are human too!” said another.

“There is nothing we can do for you here,” pleaded one cop. “It’s in the hands of the law.”

That was met by “Fuck the law!” and “Fuck the police!” The neighborhood has been inflamed since the night of January 24, when 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury was shot to death on a rooftop of the Louis Armstrong projects, across the street from the precinct. Stansbury had a clean record, was unarmed, and was merely crossing over to a friend’s apartment when he was shot by a police officer later identified as Richard Neri. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly immediately said there appeared to be “no justification” for the shooting, but a Kings County grand jury chose not to indict Neri. Politicians and activists have complained not only about the Stansbury shooting but about harassment from the NYPD’s Operation Impact units patrolling their streets.

On this day, not a politician was in sight, but Stansbury’s grandmother, 73-year-old Irene Clayburne, was among the protesters, telling the cops, “We gonna make y’all lives miserable until we get justice!” Things got only more tense when some of the cops told the few protesters who were carrying signs to remove the sticks. “Those sticks can be used as weapons,” said one cop. “You have to get rid of them.”

“Y’all the only ones who use sticks as weapons!” a protester shot back. Another one said, “Why y’all scared of sticks when y’all got guns?”

Within minutes, cops placed metal barricades in front of the precinct entrance. For the next hour or so, the still-small crowd stayed in the front of the barricades, arguing with the few cops who remained. Finally, the members of Uhuru, the activist group that organized the protest, decided to leave and regroup for another day. But as Uhuru’s members walked away down the street where Stansbury lived, one of them took out a bullhorn and started chanting, “9-1-1 for mur-der!” and 30 kids came running, seemingly out of nowhere. Within minutes there were about 50 people chanting “9-1-1 for mur-der,” passing motorists were honking their horns, and the marchers went back to the precinct. Above them, on the roof where Stansbury was killed and overlooking the precinct entrance, the guy with the bullhorn emerged, yelling, “Stay the fuck off our roofs!” and “9-1-1 for mur-der!” The crowd cheered him on.

After about 15 minutes, a high-ranking cop emerged from the precinct and announced that he would meet with one representative of the group. A young cousin of Stansbury’s went into the precinct. When she came out about half an hour later, she told the crowd, “All right, y’all, all right. They said they’re going to meet with us, they’re going to listen to our demands. We’re going to meet somewhere neutral.”

The crowd listened quietly and then started making plans for their meeting with the cops—expected later this week. With that, the crowd faded away chanting, “No justice, no peace, ’til the po-lice are off of our streets.”

Precinct officials referred questions to NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza, where Sergeant Michael Wysokowski said Monday night (April 5) that his boss in the public-information office “was not aware of” a scheduled meeting between Bed-Stuy residents and the 79th Precinct.