NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – Chanting “Justice for Omar!” 200 protestors marched arm-in-arm from the National Action Network’s House of Justice on West 135th St. in Harlem to 125th St. and Second Avenue, the place where a 25-year-old Black police officer lost his life on the night of May 28.
“We will stand here for a silent moment in memory of this fallen hero,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network. “We want his family and loved ones to know that we will stand and fight for our young ones,” Rev. Sharpton said.
Officer Omar Edwards, according to the police department, left his job at 10:30 p.m. and was officially off-duty when he spotted someone ransacking his car. It seems the two men tussled and the perpetrator got away. Mr. Edwards gave chase, reportedly with his gun in hand.
Police officials say three plainclothes officers, members of an anti-crime unit in an unmarked car, spotted Off. Edwards running and followed. At some point two of the three exited their car and chased the perpetrator while Officer Andrew Dunton, 30, jumped out and fired six rounds at Mr. Edwards, hitting him in the arm, the back and the hip.
The medical examiners’ office, through a spokeswoman, said the bullet that caused the young officer’s death entered through the left side of his back.
It is still unknown whether either officer identified himself. According to police officials, the procedure was for Off. Edwards to identify himself to the policeman giving chase. News accounts across the media spectrum reported the existence of witnesses who say they heard the shooting officer identify himself to Off. Edwards.
Some analysts say the NYPD has very good training on use of force and firearm simulations and rules are enforced during the training period for new officers in using their guns when other cops are around, but it’s not a situation that can be fully replicated in a classroom.
The slain officer had been on the NYPD for two and a half years. He had recently married his longtime girlfriend. They have two sons, ages 18 months and seven months.
Calls for a federal probe
Rev. Sharpton and a host of elected officials called for an independent federal investigation into the shooting. “I think this investigation cannot be left with the local police,” said the activist minister during the May 30 rally at the House of Justice. City Comptroller William Thompson, a mayoral candidate, Councilpersons Charles Barron, John Liu and Melissa Mark-Viverito, Assemblywoman Inez Barron and Congressman Charles Rangel joined the chorus calling for a federal probe.
“Such things happen too often in the Black community,” Rep. Rangel (D-N.Y.) told reporters.
Rickford Burke, president of the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy, said in a statement: “The NYPD officer who intentionally shot and killed Omar Edwards must be charged with murder. I am sick and weary of White cops roaming the streets of New York City, shooting at Black young men, with the intention to kill, with impunity.”
“Yet another plainclothes officer shot in the back,” said Noel Leader, spokesman for 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. In New York City there is a litany of cases where Black plainclothes officers were shot in the back, he noted.
“We do not believe the NYPD is willing to conduct a fair and impartial investigation into this young man’s death,” declared Mr. Leader. “The police commissioner, Raymond Kelly won’t admit that the internal racism rampant in the NYPD is an ongoing problem.”
“The people in the community are very angry, and they want to see justice. People aren’t fooled, they know it is about a White cop killing a Black cop; and the cover up that is coming,” Mr. Noel told The Final Call.
Commissioner Kelly told reporters the day after the shooting the department was investigating to see if race had a role in the incident.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. David Patterson, and the police commissioner told reporters they had faith in the Manhattan district attorneys’ offices ability to conduct a fair investigation.
“The culture within the NYPD is one of racism; and that is proven when you investigate the viewpoint at the command level of the communities,” countered De Lacy Davis, co-founder of Newark-based Black Cops Against Police Brutality.
“An assumption that we are all criminals is a racist assumption,” Mr. Davis said. Mr. Davis, a former sergeant in the East Orange, N.J., police department told The Final Call media reports of a verbal command exchanged between the two officers is “something I am not going along with at this point.”
The media is “painting the perception that the Black officer didn’t follow the command, and not that it was a situation of a hot dog officer making some false assumptions about the man he was shooting at,” he said.
“Racism is also the culture of those ‘street crime units,’ ” Mr. Davis added.
The New York-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice convened a panel discussion in March 2008 on the topic “In That Moment,” which dealt with how race plays out in policing.
Some of the panelists noted that race and background issues follow police officers no matter how far up they rise in the ranks. But, they said, the larger issue is the problem of how racism affects judgment.
Retired NYPD detective Roger L. Abel told the panel, “Black officers out of uniform are particularly vulnerable.” He faulted White colleagues. “They don’t think of us as police officers,” he said.
“Training is not a factor. Training is excellent. The problem is in executing the training,” Mr. Abel continued.
FBI statistics on accidental police shootings nationwide revealed 32 law enforcement officers were killed between 1997 and 2006.
In his 2006 book, “The Black Shields: A History of Black NYC Police Officers,” Mr. Abel writes that the first Black officer killed by another member of the NYPD was in 1941. The officer’s name was John A. Holt Jr., and it happened in Harlem. Thirty-five Black officers have died at the hands of fellow NYPD members since 1941 and all of the shooting officers were White, according to Mr. Abel.
The three officers involved in the Omar Edwards’ shooting have been placed on modified duty.
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