On Wednesday, several New York City police officers shot and killed an unarmed black man in Brooklyn after mistaking the metal pipe he was holding for a gun. According to the New York Times, three plainclothes and two uniformed officers encountered Saheed Vassell in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn when they responded to multiple 911 calls claiming a man was “threatening people with a silver gun.” In a press conference late Wednesday, Chief Terence Monahan said, “The suspect then took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers.” So the officers fired.
However, investigators subsequently learned that instead of wielding a firearm, Vassell was actually holding “a slim, curved silver pipe with a cylindrical knob at the end of it.” What’s more, they also realized that the 34-year-old neighborhood figure “was widely known to be mentally ill”:
In an interview at his home late Wednesday night, Mr. Vassell’s father, Eric Vassell, said his son had bipolar disorder and had been admitted to the hospital multiple times in recent years, sometimes after encounters with the police. The younger Mr. Vassell, who was born in Jamaica and came to the United States when he was 6, lived with his family in a Crown Heights apartment and had worked as a welder. He also had a 15-year-old son.
Others told the Times Vassell “was a familiar figure on the corner,” and that “he had a penchant for picking things up off the street — cigarette lighters, empty bottles and other curbside flotsam — and playing with them like toys.” His family, meanwhile, is understandably upset about what happened and demanding answers from the NYPD. “He lives in the church. He never had a gun,” an aunt told local outlet ABC 7. “Everybody is hurting right now,” a cousin added. “He’s a good kid. They killed him for no reason.”