An Unnecessary Death in New York

Police Killing Highlights Flaws of Zero Tolerance, Part 1 – Published on Spiegel Online International, by Ullrich Fichtner in New York, Oct. 17, 2012 (Photo-Gallery).

In midtown Manhattan, police officers shot and killed an African-American man in August after he had walked across Times Square waving a kitchen knife. His last moments tell the story of a broken law enforcement system in New York City … //

… A Classic American Divide:

The discussion that takes place in the aftermath of the shooting will divide cleanly along age-old American lines. Some will make snap judgments, in web forums, letters to the editor and call-in radio programs. “Gotcha!” they’ll write, “another bites the dust,” and “he deserved it.” They’ll lionize the police officers, calling them “New York’s finest,” praising their efforts to provide security in the big city. They’ll ridicule the victim, calling him a crazy, knife-wielding pothead — a foolish African American.

Others will ask anxious questions. They’ll wonder whether, in this troubled America, it’s even possible to just mourn, even if only for a day. They’ll want to know why a few dozen police officers couldn’t deal with someone like Kennedy in other ways. Why is it, one man asks, that escaped zoo animals are immobilized with tranquilizer darts, while a human being in New York is simply and ruthlessly shot to death in broad daylight?

Kennedy’s sister will be quoted as saying that her brother was a talented musician, a man who undoubtedly had his problems, and yet, she will say: “They could have shot him in the leg.” His aunt says that her nephew was a “loner,” and that people are spreading all kinds of lies about him. She insists that he was a good man, and that he wasn’t a bum.

Kennedy has picked a grotesque backdrop for his death. His short journey begins on brightly lit and eternally noisy Times Square, near the Minskoff Theater and ABC television headquarters, where huge electronic billboards advertise Broadway musicals like “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins,” as well as some of the world’s most recognizable brand names, like Coca-Cola, Samsung and Heineken. News headlines flicker across illuminated panels as big as tennis courts.

Times Square, diagonally sliced in half by Broadway, sees an average of 1.6 million pedestrians a day. It’s Aug. 11, a Saturday. The streets are devoid of office workers but filled with the usual weekend crowds. Day laborers dressed in Mickey Mouse and Elmo costumes stand at intersections, where tourists photograph them in return for pocket change, the “Naked Cowboy” is singing and playing his guitar and steam rises from the carts of food vendors. Kennedy and his pursuers gradually move south along the avenue, from 44th to 43rd to 42nd Street, Kennedy hopping along in front of them, making small, bouncy jumping moves like a cornered boxer, while the police officers, tense and vigilant, cautiously follow him at a distance.

No Police Reports in New York: … //

… Three Minutes Left to Live:

But at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, it is clear that this is no normal day — there is no one standing in the doorways. The area is shut down because of a man with a knife — one with a 6-inch and not a 12-inch blade, as the newspapers and TV stations will report, because they include the handle in their incorrect measurement.
The traffic has vanished from the broad avenue, and it is only police cars that hurry back and forth. Seen from Times Square, the crowd led by Kennedy is moving to the left of the center of the street. He now has two dozen or more police officers on his heels, most of them in uniform and a few in plain clothes, and all have their weapons drawn. They are accompanied by an amorphous swarm of eager witnesses, whose comments can be heard in the various clips. “Do you see this shit?” one person asks.

Kennedy, a 51-year-old who looks younger than his actual age, bounces along in front. At first, he turns his back on the police officers every few meters, looking as haughty as a torero turning his back on a bull. But now he is only striding backwards, keeping an eye on his pursuers through the round, green lenses of his metal-rimmed glasses. He has three minutes left to live.
(full text).

Part 2: The Trouble with Zero Tolerance;

Part 3: False Reports of a Times Square Ninja;

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

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