Fighting for Racial Justice

Rabbi Barat Ellman speaks alongside Constance Malcolm, Ramarley Graham's mother.

Rabbi Barat Ellman speaks alongside Constance Malcolm, Ramarley Graham’s mother.

On the anniversary of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, members of the Jewish and African-American communities gathered in Bryant Park on Tuesday to protest the 2012 killing of Ramarley Graham, who was shot by NYPD police officer Richard Haste in the bathroom of his apartment.

Officer Haste was found guilty in a police department disciplinary review of Graham’s death last week and quietly resigned. For the protesters, Haste’s action highlights the persistence of racial injustice in America, even 49 years after Dr. King’s death. For Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, the death was far more personal.

“They only targeted my son because he was black,” said Malcolm.  “This man got away with murder. This man profiled my child and murdered him.”

Malcolm was one of several activists who spoke at the gathering, which was led by the grassroots organization Jews for Economic and Racial Justice. The group marched from Bryant Park to Times Square, calling for justice for Ramarely Graham and his mother.

“[The police] are not all so alarming, but they come from a culture that really supports this type of behavior,” said Nikita Price, 60, a community organizer, of the NYPD. He said that at the very least, Graham’s mother deserves an explanation from the officers responsible for the death of her son.  “Even an apology is not going to bring Ramarley back.”

“When you supposedly represent this many people, and you have not found the ability to say ‘I do mourn with you,’ then that’s insincere, and it’s just disrespectful,” Price added.


Protesters block police from the sidewalk.

Protesters block police from the sidewalk.

On a February evening in 2012, Graham was followed by police officers after leaving a bodega on White Plains Road in the Bronx. Officers said they saw him tugging at a gun. Testimony from two cops at the scene said they believed Graham was “walking with purpose,” but video surveillance showed he was calmly walking home. Police followed Graham and broke into his apartment, where his grandmother was at the door, and Officer Richard Haste shot Graham. No weapons were found in Graham’s possession.

In a statement, the NYPD said that Haste decided to quit after being informed of his guilt. To some, this looked like the Police Department let Haste go quietly. The officer was never formally charged of a crime. The other policemen involved in the break-in, Officer John McLoughlin and Sgt. Scott Morris, have faced no disciplinary charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office released a statement in support of the NYPD’s decision on March 26, insisting that the administration has since taken steps to strengthen the relationship between police and New York City neighborhoods. “We are relentless in our efforts to ensure that lives will be saved as a result of the unspeakable loss of Ramarley Graham,” he said.

Rabbi Barat Ellman, a professor of theology at Fordham University, led a prayer for Ramarley at the end of the protest, and said that he would become “part of the civil rights legacy,” just like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, who also came out to show his support to Ramarley’s family, said that his faith informs the way he views issues such as police accountability. “There’s still a pharaoh that lurks in all the spaces of society and is still trying to hold people down,” he said, referring to the ancient story of Passover, when the Jewish people escaped slavery in Egypt.

As the protest finished in Times Square, the presence of the authorities in question was acutely felt, as members of the NYPD rode alongside the crowd, silent but present.