An Unnecessary Death in New York Police Killing Highlights Flaws of 'Zero Tolerance'

AP/ The New York Times

By Ullrich Fichtner in New York

Part 4: 'I Always Told Him the Knife Would Get Him in Trouble'

But what did happen with Kennedy? And what about the knife? "Oh, the knife," says Nyman. "I have a knife, too. I use it to cut up boxes and open packages every day, and Darrius did the same thing. I always told him not to walk around the city with the knife, and that it would get him into trouble one day. But he didn't want to listen to me."

Did Kennedy have psychological problems? Nyman does not hesitate before responding. "He had his demons, sure." According to Nyman, Kennedy found God a few years ago and had constantly studied the Bible ever since. "But most of all he hated the police. It was real hate, because they were always harassing him, throughout his entire life." He hated them because they stopped and searched him -- a black man and a pot smoker -- again and again. "He was a pretty big guy," says Nyman, "and for those police officers he was the picture of a suspect."

Kennedy reaches the last several feet of his path through life on Saturday, Aug. 11, at shortly after 3 p.m. The exact time to the last minute isn't entirely clear. He moves past a Bank of America branch on 38th Street, past an empty Off-Track Betting parlor and past the windows of a Chipotle fast-food restaurant.

He slows down. By now he is looking around nervously, and he must sense that his pursuers have him surrounded. What he probably doesn't see yet is that a squad car is parked across the sidewalk like a barricade, next to the glass entrance of an office building at 501 7th Avenue.

Police spokesman Browne will later say that the officers opened fire after Kennedy had come within "two to three feet" -- less than a meter -- of them. Police Chief Kelly will report: "The officers got out of the car. As a result, Kennedy approached the officers with the knife; they had no place to go." Both men, Kelly and Browne, aren't telling the truth.

The various videos circulating on the Web clearly show that Kennedy is at least 15 to 20 feet away from the officers standing at the squad car when they start shooting. And it isn't as if they had just gotten out of their cars and were taken by surprise by their victim or somehow found themselves in a situation requiring self-defense. In fact, they are standing there with their weapons drawn, waiting for Kennedy, who passes another shop, the Jewelry Patch, before turning around and facing his death.

A Pool of Blood Becomes a Tourist Attraction

Michael Massett, 41, 18 years on the job, shoots three or four times. Peter Rogers, 33, a police officer for the last seven years, pulls the trigger of his Glock nine or 10 times. Thirteen bullets strike Kennedy: six in the chest and abdomen, three in the back, two in the left upper arm and one in each thigh. He is pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital, at 3:42 p.m.

His story lives on for another two days. On Saturday, the police spend hours searching the crime scene, securing evidence and surveying the site, but after that, no one feels the need to wash away Kennedy's blood.

On Sunday, the dark pool of blood becomes a minor attraction, as tourists from around the world take snapshots of each other at the scene. Local reporters show up to write minor reports on how amusing it is to see visitors from Europe, in particular, surprised and even outraged about the fact that no one is washing away the blood. It's still there on Monday, and more tourists begin showing up with their cameras.

Then a janitor named Pedro Toruno emerges from the doorway of the glass-and-steel structure at 501 7th Avenue, carrying a mop and a bucket. He washes away all traces of the incident.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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Discuss this issue with other readers!
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onegai-shimas 10/18/2012
1. Sad topic - but ...
yes. The subject is a tragic one, a sad one. It might seem cold, to mention it as a (first) reaction to the news, but when I realized that an article in spiegel-online, that some RSS feeder brought to my smartfone .. touched me. Some man, that I never heard of before behaved ... well, strange ... and was shot by policemen & women, that I do not know either. All that happened in a place half way round the world. And the story touched, because ... it took a couple of seconds to realize the reason ... because the article belongs into the top quality percent of journalism. This level of journalistic craftsmenship has become rare. Thanks for that. And it might be a sign, that the times they are achanging.... I am obviously one of very few to notice and the only one to take the effort to give this feedback.
retarded-freak 10/19/2012
It's just the USA's new flair for social hygiene, a return to Victorianism, order and ordure. The tourists were all well-scrubbed with expensive bars of soap and their camera lenses were cleaned with alcohol. Everyone was sanitary, and a potential germ was eradicated. They were attracted by blood, which seemed strangely human and possibly dirty. Afterwards, everyone went to their condos and hotels, brushed their teeth, and washed their hands.
jas88 10/20/2012
3. Another unnecessary death from clinging to things you shouldn't
Another of those cases where either doing something utterly trivial or even doing nothing at all would have saved one or more lives: if he had simply dropped the knife, things would have been very different. Like the Russian (Aeroflot 593) and French (Air France 447) airliners which crashed with pilots clinging desperately to controls in situations they didn't properly understand, simply letting go would have allowed the situation to calm down (the Aeroflot Airbus still had a working autopilot that would have levelled off automatically; the French one may or may not have recovered from the stall otherwise, but certainly didn't with the pilot fighting it). From the talk of hating the police and his previous drug offences, it does sound as if he wanted a fight; when they have guns and you don't, that can really only end one way unless you're bright enough to give up.
democratsramshield 10/20/2012
4. Please read my article about the Darrius Kennedy tragedy
I quoted this Spiegel story in my blog diary at the Daily Kos. While I must confess to being disappointed in the lack of reaction my article received, I am hopeful that it has changed some minds. To that end I'd like to invite you to read my blog at the link below and to provide feedback at my email address below. Here is the URL address for my blog about the tragedy of Darrius Kennedy as being intertwined with the history of racism dating back to slavery in the United States. A history which we Americans to date sadly have never owned. Additionally like 59 million Americans, Darrius was medically uninsured and therefore unable to access mental health services. Therefore sadly I'm afraid that Darrius' tragedy will not be the last such tragedy in the United States. The truth is we Americans need the help of people of conscience from around the world. To that end please read my article at the link below. Thank you!
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