A Mentally Ill New Yorker Was Killed After Four Cops Shot at Him Ten Times. He Was Holding a Pipe.

Saheed Vassell died as activists held a national day of action on police shootings.

A protest after the death of Dwayne Jeune, a mentally ill man killed by New York City police officers in August 2017.Erik Mcgregor/Zuma Press

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New York City police officers shot and killed an unarmed African-American man Wednesday afternoon after responding to calls about a man pointing at passersby what bystanders believed to be a gun. The man was actually holding a metal pipe, police officials later determined. Saheed Vassell, 34, was a father of two and had bipolar disorder, his father told the New York Times.

Five police officers responded to the call about Vassell at an intersection in Brooklyn on Wednesday, NYPD chief Terence Monahan said at a press conference. Four of the officers fired a combined 10 shots at Vassell after he “took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers,” Monahan said. After the shooting, officers determined that Vassell was not holding a gun but instead was holding a metal pipe “with some sort of knob at the end,” he added. The New York Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into the shooting.

Vassell’s father told the Times that his son had refused treatment or medication for his bipolar disorder. Community members in the neighborhood where Vassell was shot told the Times and the New York Daily News that Vassell and his mental health challenges were well known. “All he did was just walk around the neighborhood,” one person told the Daily News. “He speaks to himself, usually he has an orange Bible or a rosary in his hand. He never had a problem with anyone.”

People with untreated mental health challenges are at least 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than other civilians, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. A Washington Post analysis of officer-involved killings in 2017 determined that about a quarter of the nearly 1,000 people killed by police last year had some kind of mental health issue. 

While one witness to Vassell’s shooting told the Times that he heard an officer and Vassell exchange words before the shooting, other witnesses told the Times and the Daily News that they did not hear the officers give any warnings or commands to Vassell and that they began firing almost immediately after exiting their vehicles.

Vassell’s shooting drew a crowd of protesters almost immediately after the incident occurred. At least one protest and a separate vigil have been scheduled in New York City on Thursday. The shooting comes less than three weeks after the fatal police shooting of another unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, in Sacramento. That shooting has drawn national media attention and sparked weeks of protests in California’s capital. 

Sacramento’s chapter of the Black Lives Matter Global Network had declared Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., a national day of action for Clark. Black Lives Matter chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, Lansing, Michigan, and Greensboro, North Carolina also held demonstrations for Clark on Wednesday. Nearly 300 people have been killed by police officers so far in 2018, according to a Post database tracking police killings nationwide.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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