We were startled to see 18-year-old Khiel Coppin’s blood still on the street Wednesday morning, two days after being shot by police who said he had refused to obey an order to stop walking toward the officers. The officers say Coppin made a menacing gesture with what turned out to be a hairbrush, and they fired 20 shots from their positions of cover behind their cars. After hitting Coppin at least seven times, the police then handcuffed the bleeding Coppin for transport to Woodhull Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
They had been called to the Medgar Evers Apartments at 560 Gates Avenue after Mr. Coppin’s mother, Denise Owens, contacted 911 because he was threatening her. On the 911 call, Coppin could be heard in the background shouting that he had a gun. On a second 911 call, Mrs. Owens told the operator that her son did not have a gun. When the police arrived at the apartment, Coppin exited a window, and the deadly events unfolded.
New York City Councilman Albert Vann, in whose 36th District the shooting occurred, noted that the only information available is what the police commissioner said. “And he spoke before the district attorney had completed his investigation and before the autopsy. So there is no verifiable information yet. All we know is that Kheil Coppin is dead and that he was shot by police. We know Kheil was a troubled young man and he should have been treated as such.”
A young man from the neighborhood, “Dublo 7,” said that “within the first 24 hours of the boy dying, Kelly said that the murder was ‘within departmental guidelines.’ All the information describing what happened is being filtered by the police.” Asked what did happen, Dublo 7 said, “What happened was that individuals with a shield on their chests, let go 20 bullets in the direction of a young man and killed him. If they took their badges off and did it, they’d be prosecuted for murder.”
Councilman Charles Barron said, “This is total madness. The police are out of control. Years ago a young Black man had a candy bar, they shot him. Then we had Randy Evans, years ago, had an Afro pick. They shot him. Amadou Diallo, they say he had a wallet. They shot and killed him. Brother up in Harlem, they say he pointed his finger. They shot and killed him. This is insane.”
That was a sentiment that resonated in the neighborhood. “The cops, they crazy, they scaring us out here,” said Buddy Love, a young man from the same housing where the shooting occurred. “They stop us for any reason. They want us locked up. They don’t like us. They’re grabbing us up. Riding a bike on the sidewalk, throwing a cigarette in the street, spitting on the sidewalk, why do you want to lock us up for some little stuff like that? They really think we’re that dangerous and it’s them that are dangerous. They walk around with guns. Why you pull out your gun and all he had was a brush?”
Black elected officials and the leadership of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Greater Central Brooklyn, including local residents, grassroots, national and regional community organizations, are uniting in sympathy and open support for the family of Khiel Coppin. “We are committed to guaranteeing that justice will be served for Khiel and embattled young black men in Bedford-Stuyvesant and beyond,” said Councilman Vann, in announcing the major press conference to take place Friday, November 16th, steps from the site of the tragedy. “As we express our sympathy, we also are speaking out to assure that there is a strong, unwavering voice for the voiceless everywhere.”
On the day we visited the shooting scene, the voice of Malcolm X was coming loud from Efron Cherry’s car. Efron, a street educator, not uncommon in the neighborhood, said, “We are a people that are in trouble and until we become a people that makes them respect us as the human beings we are born to be. I’m out here not just to make the police realize that they’re wrong for pulling the trigger, I’m out here to tell my people that we’re wrong for not making them understand that as a people, we will not tolerate it. Which means we will not do the things to ourselves that are making us weak. We will not destroy us, and we will not sit back and let them destroy us. That’s why I’m out here.”
Councilman Barron says, “We should decentralize the police department and make it more responsive to the local community. We should also be able to vote for the police commissioner. It should be an elected position.”
Regarding “acceptable police guidelines, Barron said, “The police are going by their fear, their perception of a gun. They do not go by the actual gun. Their argument is that the police have only seconds to make that determination. But why doesn’t that happen in the white community? The Gideon Busch case in 1999 is the only time you heard about a white person being shot for no reason. (Officers said Busch was threatening them with a claw hammer.) They seem to be able to make those determinations in the white community when they are apprehending suspects.
Asked if there was a relationship between the fact of public housing, low income enclaves surrounded by homes and condos selling for $700,000. “absolutely. I think the method of policing is to move us out of these neighborhoods. Gentrification is coming hand-in-hand with police terror. It’s almost like they’re clearing us out for the white folks. They’re using police harassment, housing policies-building 421a housing with 80% luxury and 20% affordable that you can’t really afford. We’re number one cases of HIV/AIDS. We have colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer. We are the most unhealthy with the least health facilities. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of these things are happening at the same time.” Wake for Kheil Coppin is Monday 3pm-9pm, Nazarene Congressional Church, 506 McDonough Street at Patchen, and the funeral is on Tuesday at 12 noon.