Last year, eyewitnesses were certain that 16-year-old Kimani Gray was unarmed when two plainclothes officers shot him seven times in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. But the officers alleged that Gray pointed a .38-caliber Rohm’s industry revolver at them.
Aggrieved family members demanded justice. Protests were held. Riots ensued. No one was indicted.
This year, Gray is anonymously listed among the eight people shot dead by cops in 2013, according to the New York Police Department’s annual firearms discharge report (the report includes scenario-specific details for each case, which is how the Voice was able to determine which sections referred to Gray). The number of police-gunfire fatalities last year matched 2010’s total as the lowest since the agency began keeping records in 1971.
The report adds that all eight “subjects” had arrest histories prior to the shooting incidents and that two (including Gray) were intoxicated at the time of their confrontations. And this total number of people shot and killed by police officers in 2013 dropped by half, from 16, in 2012.
Last year, NYPD officers fired a total of 248 shots in 81 separate shooting incidents — also the lowest figures in more than 40 years. That marks a sharp contrast from the 2,510 shots fired during 994 shooting incidents in 1972, the highest in the report-keeping’s history.
See Also: Police Supporters Plan to Hold #ThankYouNYPD Rally Outside City Hall. This Should Go Well
The department is flaunting its numbers at a time of persistent citywide protests against the non-indictment of NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner. The firearms discharge report was released on December 9. Police sympathizers believe the report can counter the narrative that the NYPD are trigger-happy goons. On the other hand, it failed to impress certain groups involved in the demonstrations, adamant on toning down police use of deadly force.
“The number of shootings is only one way of presenting questionable police actions or actions involving police brutality,” says Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.
Gangi acknowledges that “the numbers show” the department is doing a better job, reflected in the drop in the number of shootings. However, the document will not muffle widespread calls for police reform.
“The movement to expose and correct police practices is too strong and it is not going to be deterred by this report,” he told the Voice. “The public consciousness of bad police practices right now is too wide and deep.”
Delores Jones-Brown, a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, takes a similar view. Her take is more straightforward: “The firearms discharge report doesn’t cover an Eric Garner situation.”
In instances like Kimani Gray’s, the report does not detail why the level of force used was necessary. Whether or not Gray had a gun, “seven bullets is excessive,” she says. “What was the underlying offense?”
Jones-Brown, who is also affiliated with the Communities United for Police Reform, adds that the report does not “absolve” the NYPD of anything. And it will not, she says, divert attention from or diminish the import of the Garner case or even that of Akai Gurley, the unarmed black man shot by a white rookie cop in a dark public-housing stairwell in Brooklyn.
“Gurley’s family could care less how many times firearms were being discharged in 2013,” she says during a phone call. What is the race of the majority of the victims? she asks. “Look at who is being struck by bullets.”
While the NYPD’s recently released data only covers events in 2013, it brings the Gurley case to mind, especially since Peter Liang, the cop who killed Gurley, is from the precinct — the 75th — with the second highest number of cases last year where an officer intentionally discharged his or her firearm during a confrontation with a subject.
Police Commissioner William Bratton has declared the Gurley shooting an accidental discharge.
Eugene O’Donnell, another John Jay professor, says that in spite of the current negative attitudes toward the NYPD and police use of deadly force, it is important to give credit where it is due. The self-proclaimed “dyed-in-wool” progressive says the report proves that “when it comes to firearms, the NYPD has shown remarkable restraint.”
“It is important not to lose sight of some basic truths of the NYPD,” says O’Donnell, also a former NYPD officer. He emphasizes how tough it is to continuously improve New York’s behemoth police force — widely deemed the largest police department in the world. O’Donnell is convinced the NYPD does not have a deadly-force problem.
“Garner is an issue. Bell is an issue. But these scenarios are [a handful] out of millions of police interactions,” he says. O’Donnell urges New Yorkers, amid the police reform din, to be fair in assessing the accomplishments of the NYPD as outlined in the study.
Seventy-year-old activist Gangi says he is “aggravated” by how politicians and NYPD supporters could spin the NYPD report to suit their narratives. “Some politicians and NYPD apologists [seek to] drown out the voices that are dominating the debate about the issue of bad [police] practices,” he says frankly. “It’s a misguided attempt and one that will fail.”