“This is Not Our Legacy. It is Not Our Fault, but It is Our Responsibility.”
The search for meaning in a young man’s violent death is a long and too-often travel road that took a turn to the Nazarene Congressional United Church of Christ, pastored by Conrad Tillard, for the funeral of Kheil Coppin, shot by police, because he had a hairbrush mistaken for a gun.
The tableau of black-robed ministers, the organist and the pews of mourners was again a “too familiar setting” to Councilman Al Vann who spoke of how justice is supposed to be blind, but he said, “I think justice sometimes peeps” because he had not seen justice done for Black boys.
Assemblywoman Annette Robinson reminded those present of the personal responsibility in caring for the neighborhood. “Some of the activity that goes on in our community must stop,” she said. “And children must know that their lives are valuable and that someone cares.”
Sharonnie Perry of Community Board 3 spoke of how she and her committee had occasion to have an impromptu discussion with a group of young people who spoke about their anger at the steady police harassment and the stopping and frisking for no apparent reason. She called for continued dialogue with, and response to, young people.
Reverend Al Sharpton gave the eulogy and spoke of those in society who say they want peace, “when what they really want is quiet,” in response to the double standard of delivering basic services with strategy and caution in some neighborhoods and violence in others.
Reverend Sharpton reflected the thinking that has begun to galvanize the African-American community, “The problem is not the opposition, the problem is us.” Sharpton said he had a different self-concept when he was growing up. “I was raised to believe I could be president. I was raised to believe that liberation does not come from City Hall, it comes from us..and it will end when we stand up.”
Like many in the community, Sharpton reflected on the faltered progress and even backsliding in the African-American community and insisted that “This is not our legacy. It is not our fault, but it is our responsibility.” Each generation has a purpose, said Sharpton, and he says that we must discover in Kheil’s death, the purpose of this generation, which is “to straighten this out,” organize and rise up.
At a press conference called to give voice to community outrage at the 20-shot shooting by the police of Kheil Coppin, an emotionally disturbed 18-year-old holding a hairbrush, assumed by police to be a gun, Councilman Al Vann spoke of the outrage that despite all of the times he’s attended events like these, “No changes have been made to prevent killings of unarmed Black men by police.”
“Despite the decades of protest marching and demonstrations,” he says still that Black and Latino and mentally disturbed people are killed, “and yet no fundamental change has been made.”
Giving words to the frustration running through the community, Councilman Vann noted that policy and legislative experts had long studied the problem. He said he’s attended decades of meetings and at this point has heard all the recommendations. And yet here we are, he says, all those decades later and “no recommendations have been implemented.”
Speaking then to the community that has had “thousands of Black men and boys killed and lost,” the councilman, told them as someone who was “born and bred” in Bedford-Stuyvesant and who ran the streets as a child, he was mindful of the adage, “A sign of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.” He was speaking, of course, of the now-too- familiar cries of outrage and demands and said, “You know what has to be done, you cannot wait for the system to correct itself. Young people have to join everything positive in the community and work with enlightened elders,” so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Speaking of the past, attorney Mark Pollard, of the Brooklyn NAACP, an organization born of the children of Reconstruction, noted that people “forget” the underlying cause of the environment for the shooting, its beginnings in slavery and its continuation in the form of the prison industry, which transfers populations, giving added political clout to upstate New York and Pollard says, providing “economic development for the white community.”
Councilman Vann and community leaders included in immediate demands: independent monitoring of “Use of Force” incidents, reform of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and establishment of an Independent Prosecutor for police corruption and brutality cases for New York City.