Kimani Gray Funeral Highlights Human Cost of Stop and Frisk
NEW YORK -- On Saturday, inside the mahogany wood and white stone
sanctuary at St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic Church, no one spoke openly
about the New York Police Department's impact on the church's East
Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn.
No one mentioned the controversial tactic, formally called"stop-question-and-frisk," and its possible impact on police community
relations in the neighborhood.
No one talked about what it has done to alter the lives of the nearly 5
million people -- the overwhelming majority of whom are black or Latino --
citywide who have been stopped and frisked.
No one had to.
At the church's altar Kimani Gray, a 16-year-old known by the nickname"Kiki" whose favorite subject in school was English because he, “loved the
power of words,” lay silent and still inside a coffin, beneath a bone and
gold embroidered pall.
To the right of the casket, sat Gray's parents, family and friends, as
well as the emergency medical crew called when Gray's mother fainted and
nearly fell to the church floor. Later, one of Gray's brothers had to be
restrained inside the sanctuary when he said loudly that an unidentified
man should not have been there because the man did not know who Kiki was.
Gray's eulogy reminded those inside the sanctuary that in the days leading
up to his death Gray, a self-described writer, was busy working on a
dramatic piece. On weekdays, he traveled more than an hour each way to his
Manhattan high school. His affection for Chinese food, the television show“Supernatural,” and the music of teenage rapper Chief Keef, were so well
known that their mention Saturday moved most of the nearly 200 people
gathered inside St. Catherine's to laugh.
Two weeks after Gray's shooting death, exactly what happened remains the
subject of an NYPD internal investigation. Police say that when
plain-clothes officers jumped out of a car, and ordered Gray and a group
of teenagers on their way to a Sweet 16 party to stop for questioning,
Gray pointed a weapon at the officers. Police fired, killing Gray.
Witnesses say that Gray was unarmed, and attempting to adjust his baggy
pants and possibly flee when he was shot. An autopsy found that some of
the seven bullets that pierced Gray entered the back of his body.
The March 9 shooting seems to have drawn new national attention to a
collection of police tactics used nationwide, including stop and frisk,
and random traffic stops to initiate vehicle searches or warrant checks.
Proponents insist the tactics are proactive policing tools that help
identify criminals and stop crime before it occurs. Opponents insist they
provide legal cover for racial profiling and abuses of authority that turn
minority neighborhoods into police states.
Gray's death also ignited a series of clashes with police that New York
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said were prematurely and inaccurately
reported as riots. The confrontations led to a series of arrests and a
make-shift sidewalk memorial for Gray near the spot where he was shot.
Neither Kelly nor New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a proponent of
stop and frisk, attended the funeral.
On Saturday, the NYPD stationed police cruisers with flashing lights along
streets near St. Catherine's. At least 35 police officers stood behind
stacks of portable metal barricades at the church or were aboard scooters
scattered between the church and the site of the shooting less than a mile
For Jose LaSalle, an activist who is among a small group keeping vigil at
the spot where Gray was shot, the service made him think of his own
In 2011, when LaSalle's son was 15, he was stopped and frisked in East
Harlem. A radio recording of one of the officers involved is expected to
be introduced into evidence this month in a federal case evaluating the
constitutionality of stop and frisk, said LaSalle. The boy was too afraid
to testify, his father said, but the recording captured one of the
officers who frisked him calling the boy, “a mutt.”
"A mutt, like a mixed breed dog," said LaSalle. "He said that like Spanish
people, you know because of our mixed heritage, are not even full human
beings. That's what boys like my son, parents like me face if we are
lucky. My son is alive."
Why more SWAT-style raids? A 'militarized' world
by Tim Gurrister
OGDEN — Law enforcement officials agree: Police execute a “door kick”
somewhere in Weber County, on average, once every week.
The forced entries range from a welfare check, when neighbors become
concerned as newspapers pile up on someone's porch and the family car is
parked in the driveway.
At the other end of the spectrum are the full-on, SWAT-style raids with
helmeted officers battering down a door unannounced, such as the Sept. 16,
2010, entry that left the suspect, Todd Blair, fatally shot.
Officials point to the frequency of door kicks, in police parlance, that
occur without publicity or complaint as proof they're benign — only a
small percentage go awry. They steadfastly maintain they are crucial, the
swift deployment necessary for officer safety and to keep suspects from
Commando tactics concerns
But there are critics concerned about the increase in the commando-style
entries, also known as a breach.
The American Civil Liberties Union recently announced a nationwide
investigation of the “militarization” of police departments,
simultaneously filing 255 public records requests in 24 states on March 6.
Among 18 Utah agencies whose records were requested are the Ogden, Roy and
Brigham City police departments and the Weber and Cache county sheriff's
The agencies have been asked to provide data on SWAT team deployments and
injuries during the deployments, weaponry used, and the level of funding
for armament and equipment from the Departments of Defense and Homeland
The ACLU decried militarization as an erosion “of civil liberties
encouraging increasingly aggressive policing.”
In the wake of high-profile, lethal-force incidents involving officers,
police brass and prosecutors have defended the strong-arm tactics as
necessary in an increasingly violent world.
“Officers plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Ogden Police Lt.
Will Cragun. “It's easy to second-guess after the fact, but you need to
get down in the dirt with us to know what's going on.”
Officials typically point to recent mass shootings around the country as a
constant reminder to officers to be on their guard.
Roy Police Chief Greg Whinham noted the Columbine High School shootings of
1999, where 12 students and a teacher were killed and 21 injured, moved
him to make his department the first in the state to put A-4 automatic
rifles in the trunks of all patrol cars.
“I will always err on the side of getting my officers home at the end of
their shift,” he said.
In an earlier news story about the ACLU records request, Weber County
Sheriff's Deputy Chief Klint Anderson said the problem is “the
militarization of our criminals.”
Anderson said law enforcement is seeing “criminals who have military
experience and military training.”
Jim Retallick, veteran Ogden public defender, and other defense attorneys
argue there are other ways to serve search warrants than the
military-style door kicks.
“Hell yes, it's getting dangerous,” Retallick said. “For seven people to
get shot over marijuana is ridiculous.”
He is referring to the Jan. 4, 2012, forced-entry raid on the Ogden home
of Matthew David Stewart. Six officers were shot, one fatally. Stewart was
also wounded, hospitalized and jailed and now awaits trial, facing the
Outgrowth of 9/11
Robert Wadman, emeritus Weber State University criminal justice professor
and its master's degree coordinator, sees the SWAT-style raids as part of
an overall shift to militarism in police work — fallout from the 9/11
“I'm very concerned that, on a national basis, police organizations are
looking more and more like combat troops and less and less like community
police officers,” said Wadman, a chief of police in four cities, the last
Omaha, before he came to WSU.
“If Osama bin Laden killed and captured anything, it was community
policing,” he said, referring to what was a growing trend in police work,
best typified by officers assigned to a neighborhood, even walking a beat.
Since 9/11, police organizations, funded with federal dollars, have
purchased armored vehicles, high-powered firearms and other equipment,
pushing the community policing model to the sidelines.
“This behavior is a great loss to every city in America. It sustains an‘us versus them' mentality in the minds of police officers,” which he
called a false mentality.
Most acts of violence occur between family members and friends, not
strangers. Not, as the NRA (National Rifle Association) states, a criminal
class in American society. By dressing up like soldiers and climbing
aboard armored personnel carriers, the police are distancing themselves
from the very people they are sworn to protect and serve.”
The national picture
Nationally, two scholars have been accumulating numbers on the increase in
Nashville-based Radley Balko, formerly a policy analyst with the Cato
Institute, now a Huffington Post senior writer, and Dr. Peter Kraska, of
the University of Eastern Kentucky, point to skyrocketing increases in
They count about 3,000 SWAT-style raids nationwide in 1980. By 2006, the
number reached 50,000, and extrapolates to 70,000, possibly 80,000, by
Their work, especially Balko's, has been part of the motivation for the
ACLU investigation, said Leah Farrell, staff attorney with the Utah ACLU
That, she said, is in addition to the anecdotal evidence, such as a
child's pajamas catching fire from a flash grenade during a raid in
Detroit before she was shot.
Balko has written two books on police militarization. The second, coming
out in July, documents more than 50 innocent people killed in SWAT-style
raids since the early 1990s.
Impacts of Homeland Security
Balko, in an email interview, said the policies and incentives that fueled
the massive increase from the early 1980s to late 1990s are still in
place. “Plus, we now have DHS funding, which dwarfs all of the funding
that came before it.”
He believes it's only going to get worse.
“My guess is, we'll continue to see mission creep until a few high-profile
people with some stature and political power become victims. But the DHS
grant program is lucrative enough that there's now a blossoming industry
of suppliers that exist solely to provide military-grade gear to local
police departments in exchange for DHS grants.”
Maryland is the only state that requires any kind of reporting from police
on the raids, he said. “That transparency bill only came after the
high-profile botched raid on the mayor of Berwyn Heights. It (the bill)
was vigorously opposed by every police group in the state.”
Main target? Drugs
The Weber County breaches are typically not SWAT raids, and most are
drug-related. The number of SWAT callouts has remained the same over time,
at 20 to 30 a year, said Cragun, a 21-year veteran of the Ogden Metro SWAT
At the same time, the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force proficiency has
grown to the point that its agents typically serve 120 search warrants a
year, double the level of five years ago, according to strike force annual
reports. They do not detail how many were served via breach.
All agree easily most of the door kicks are for drugs.
“Most of them end up as public defender cases,” Retallick said.“(Defendants) tell us about the breach. Most of the time, they're so
stoned out of their gourd they can't remember if the police knocked or
Defense attorneys, police and prosecutors debate the door kicks
strenuously. Weber County Attorney Dee Smith adamantly defends them as the
only option for the safety of officers in an increasingly violent society.
But Randy Richards, lead defense counsel for Stewart, said the increase in
the breaches — almost unheard of when he started practicing law 28 years
ago — comes “on the heels of this gun debate we're having in this
“They're breaking into these homes knowing half of the populace is armed.
It's scary ... it's out of control. It's an assault on the Fourth
Amendment (ban on unreasonable search and seizure), and it seems like
nobody cares. We all think it only happens to someone else.”
The growth in the “home raids,” as Richards calls them, is expected to be
a part of Stewart's defense at trial, set for April 2014, but he wouldn't
elaborate. At Stewart's three-day preliminary hearing last fall, Richards
had planned to play the helmet-cam video of the Todd Blair shooting, but
changed his mind without comment.
The legal debate
Richards, Retallick and Mike Bouwhuis, coordinator of Weber County's
public defenders, suggest alternatives. Police, they say, could wait for
suspects to come out of their home, even stop them in their car as they leave to have better control over a situation than a door kick.
The subjects of search warrants also could be approached elsewhere, at
their place of employment, for instance. The suspects could be given the
option of coming along with the officer to save their door being battered.
Another flaw the defense attorneys cite is in the “knock and announce”
search warrant. In those instances, officers typically wait 30 seconds
before breaching, shout “police — search warrant” while pounding on a
door, meant to ensure anyone inside knows it's police officers entering
Occupants are to have a chance to answer the door, but not to flush drugs
down a toilet, for example.
But they may not hear the announcement clearly. “Why would you think the
people inside the home could understand that?” Bouwhuis asks.
“We like the police. They keep us safe. But how can we be sure there are
protections in place to keep them from running roughshod over people's
rights to be secure in their home?”
Smith argues the only alternative to the forced-entry serving of search
warrants is “to ignore the criminal activity altogether.”
As to waiting for subjects to leave a home to detain them for purposes of
the search warrant, he said the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly said that
“You can't detain someone leaving the house, since the warrant applies to
And showing the search warrant to the homeowner at his job also fails, he
said. “Then we're tipping him off. He just calls someone at the house and
tells them to destroy evidence.”
Arrest warrants rarely accompany search warrants, Smith said, so subjects
can't be handcuffed to keep them off the phone.
Officers announce search warrants more than adequately, Smith maintains.“I've been present for dozens of them, and they yell loudly and plainly.
“It could change,” Retallick philosophized about the door kicks. “Maybe it
will be like high-speed chases. These days, they are calling them off. You
never used to hear that.”