Kimani “Kiki” Gray was buried last weekend on a windy hillside in Cypress Hills Cemetery. The killing of the 16-year-old by plainclothes police officers two weeks ago set off rolling protests in the neighborhood, but the funeral was somber and peaceful.
Family and friends slowly filed into St. Catherine of Genoa church on Albany Avenue on Saturday morning, squeezing past the crowd of photojournalists and TV cameramen assembled to document the moment. Older attendees dressed formally, while many young men wore “Forever Kiki” T-shirts. When the black Lincoln hearse rolled up, a woman speaking for Gray’s family politely asked the press not to crowd the coffin as it was removed, and to refrain from taking pictures.
“No disrespect,” she said. “Please give us some space, as if it was your own family.” Some photographers didn’t move, prompting one of the young casket-bearers to snap, “Go across the street! No pictures!” The cameramen complied, grudgingly. “It’s bullshit,” one muttered to his colleague on the far sidewalk, as six young men lifted the black and chrome casket out of the hearse and carried it up the stairs.
City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who represents East Flatbush, entered the church early but left after a few minutes. Councilman Charles Barron, who represents a neighboring district, arrived with Gray’s mother, and stayed with her throughout, but didn’t speak to the press. Councilman Mathieu Eugene didn’t shy away from the press however, telling reporters that Kimani Gray’s death was the result of broad social problems, including the proliferation of guns. Asked by the Voice if the police had anything to do with it, Eugene said, “I don’t think one person or one entity is the solution. It will take all of us.”
The next afternoon, a crowd of about 100 gathered at the intersection of East 55th Street and Church Avenue that has been the rallying point for many of the demonstrations over the past two weeks. A Facebook event page announcing the day’s protest was authored by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, and echoed by Occupy Wall Street and other groups. Organizers said Kimani Gray’s family supported the march and might attend the event, but they never showed up, nor did the crowds of young East Flatbush residents whose actions first set off the protests.
The first hour of the protest was given over to speeches, many of them by members of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, which has ties to the Revolutionary Communist Party.
Jamel Mims urged attendees to join “the revolution club,” and watch a film by RCP founder Bob Avakian. He dismissed the suggestion of Councilman Williams that “outside” agitators were responsible for the unrest in East Flatbush. “If you are outraged by this murder and the countless other murders, then you need to be a part of this movement to actually put an end to it,” Mims said. “That is not an outside agenda. That is an answer.”
RCP members also spoke at length against the Voice, repeating the sentiment (expressed earlier here) that the situation in East Flatbush is “not fucking complicated.”
But some in attendance were clearly uncomfortable with the RCP’s “Revolution, nothing less” agenda, and with the tone it set at the protest.
Fatimah Shakur and Jose LaSalle, anti-police-violence activists who helped organize the event, tried to put some distance between the demonstration and the RCP’s platform.
“This is not about no political agenda,” LaSalle told the crowd. “This is not about no Revolutionary Communist Party. This is about people’s justice. This is about the people.”
A member of the New Black Panther Party also spoke up, criticizing the RCP for selling its literature at the protest.
“I see people out here trying to receive funding off the back of this family,” he said. “You’re out here selling your propaganda, or your merchandise — I want to see how much of that money you take off there you’re going to give to the Kimani Gray family.”
A few minutes later, conflict erupted next to the RCP’s literature table, as Shakur demanded they stop selling. “Are you the police?” Mims asked her. “Because you’re doing their job.”
For their part, NYPD officers continued their strategy of overwhelming force in East Flatbush, flanking the protest with a line of scooters, observing it from rooftops, and even carrying a portable LRAD sonic device, the product page for which promises that “the warning tone provides a non-lethal deterrent, shapes behavior, and supports intent determination while preserving time for force escalation.”
As the marchers approached the 67th Precinct, they were met with steel barriers, a line of helmeted police, and a small forest of TV news satellite trucks. As dusk fell, the protesters began to trickle away. LaSalle said he was happy with the event, but he doesn’t have any plans for further demonstrations in East Flatbush. Instead he said, “We’re going to do a lot of know-your-rights trainings, and we’re going to support the family and the community.”
For more on Sunday’s protest and its attendant sectarian disagreements, watch this clip from Atiq Zabinski, a video documentarian who has done excellent work in East Flatbush over the past two weeks: