African-American and Latino legislators rallied today at the Brooklyn intersection where an off-duty cop killed an unarmed black civilian on July 4—and one lawmaker predicted a “social explosion” that would dwarf even the riots that wracked Ferguson and Baltimore if the policeman goes free.
Assemblyman Charles Barron, a former member of the Black Panther Party, went further than any of his colleagues gathered near the corner where Officer Wayne Isaacs fatally shot Delrawn Small in an apparent road rage outburst last Monday. Barron, who represents the East New York neighborhood that served as site of the homicide, warned of dire consequences should Isaacs avoid arrest and jail time.
“I’m not going to back down from saying it—I give a warning, a warning: when peaceful means and methods for getting justice is denied and rejected, violence is inevitable,” he said. “You can’t keep killing us with impunity and think we’re going to go back and suffer peacefully.”
“You think Ferguson went up in flames? You think Baltimore went up in flames?” he continued. “The flames across America nobody will be able to douse, if we don’t start getting some justice.”
Video footage surfaced Friday that directly contradicted Isaacs’ account of the deadly encounter. The off-duty cop claimed he shot Small in self-defense after the now-deceased man began punching him through his open car window—but the surveillance tape shows Isaacs firing his service weapon at Smalls just seconds after the civilian approached his vehicle.
The killing in Brooklyn occurred the same week that police shootings of unarmed black men in Louisiana and Minnesota provoked fresh Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. Anger over the deaths of those two men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, apparently inspired Micah Johnson to kill five police officers in Dallas last Thursday.
Most of the lawmakers at today’s event expressed empathy for the families of the dead cops, but Barron offered condolences to Johnson’s family.
“He has a family too. He is a product of this American racist society. He was forced into doing something that was desperate. His family lost a loved one,” Barron said. “They’re probably the most hated people in America, and nobody wants to express their condolences to those innocent family members of Micah. I will do that today.”
This is not the first time Barron has warned of a combustible situation in the city’s nonwhite neighborhoods. In 2014, shortly after black Staten Islander Eric Garner died in a white police officer’s chokehold, Barron claimed there was “a powder keg in this town.” He also warned of violence after the Brooklyn DA opted not to seek jail time for the officer convicted in the death of unarmed black man Akai Gurley.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Nick Perry—chairman of the Black, Puerto Rican and Asian Legislative Caucus—was more restrained in his rhetoric, but not in the loftiness of his goals.
“There has to be a revolution in the police department to change the mindset and the knee-jerk reaction that responds always to efforts for transparency and real reform as an attack on the police,” Perry said. “We ask police officers to stand forward from behind that blue wall, to change the culture of how we do policing in New York City, in New York State, in America.”
Small’s brother, Victor Dempsey, called police violence “modern-day genocide,” but also seemed to suggest he did not believe racial animus drove Isaacs to kill.
“It can happen to anybody,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the officer being African-American, it has nothing to do with the victims being black. What you have to understand is, it’s happening too often, and it’s black lives.”
The legislators said they plan to meet soon with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whom Gov. Andrew Cuomo formally made special prosecutor in the case yesterday. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton also announced last afternoon that his department had stripped Isaacs of his badge and gun.