Another son taken by the NYPD

June 18, 2012

Cindy Klumb reports on the growing fight for justice for Tamon Robinson--another Black man who lost his life at the hands of the NYPD.

ON MOTHER'S Day, I couldn't stop thinking about another mother who needlessly lost her son. Then, on June 9, I got to meet Laverne Dobbinson at a rally and march in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn demanding "Justice for Tamon."

On April 12, 2012, Laverne's son Tamon Robinson, like Trayvon Martin, encountered someone who made a wrong assumption based on his age and the color of his skin. In Tamon's case, it was a police officer, while in Trayvon's case, it was a civilian, George Zimmerman. But in both cases, because the young men were African American, their lives were cut tragically short.

Tamon worked in as a barista at the Connecticut Muffin café on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Green, Brooklyn. On the side, he collected bricks, stones and other discarded building materials and sold them for scrap. Around 5:30 a.m., on the way to his car that morning, Tamon stopped to collect some old paving stones that the Seaview Houses were throwing away. He had permission from the building's management to take them.

Tamon Robinson
Tamon Robinson

Officers in a patrol car spotted him and assumed he was stealing. When two officers began chasing him, Tamon ran toward the building where he had, until recently, lived with his mother. He had moved into his own apartment, but still had a key and stopped by to visit her every day.

He was barely 100 yards away from the entrance when a third officer drove a police cruiser onto the sidewalk and ran him down. A witness reported seeing Tamon fly up into the air and then land on the ground. Officers were overheard telling him to get up before picking him up and throwing the unconscious man onto the hood of the car. When they realized he was not responding, they finally called emergency medical services.

In some twisted irony, during a canvas looking for witnesses, the same officers knocked on Tamon's mother's door. Ms. Dobbinson was told there had been an accident and asked if she saw anything. She was unaware that the young man injured in the accident was her son. It was not until later--around 4 p.m.--that officers returned to her door to tell her that her son was in the hospital in a coma.

What you can do

New Yorkers can join family members and activists on Saturday, June 23, at 6 p.m. for a discussion on "The Fight Against Police Violence," at the Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, Room 9T.

Speakers include relatives and friends of victims of police violence, including Danette Chavis, Laverne Dobbinson, Jennifer Gonzalez and Constance Malcolm, plus New York City educator and ISO member Brian Jones.

For a full list of endorsers and more information, go to the website.

When Laverne Dobbinson arrived at the hospital, she found Tamon handcuffed to the bed in spite of the fact that he was in a coma. Initially, she was not allowed into the room to be with her son. Officials kept her and other family members from Tamon's bedside where they could give comfort and talk to him. After two days, the police finally relented. Six days after his encounter with NYPD, his family made the painful decision to end life support.

Speaking with Tamon's mother after the rally and march, I asked her to tell me about her son. "He was a good son, never got into any trouble," she told me. "He never was involved in drugs or gangs. He was friendly; it was rare that he ever got angry with anyone. He was a hard worker and was trying to go to college."

IN APRIL, I stopped by the coffee and muffin shop where Tamon had worked. His manager described him the same way--hardworking, friendly, got along with everyone, co-workers and customers. He said that when Tamon came in to apply for the job, he was so impressed by him that he hired him right away. Everyone I talked with all spoke highly of Tamon.

The official police investigation into Tamon's death determined it an "accident," and no one up to this point has been held accountable for Tamon's death. The family has hired a lawyer who specializes in police brutality cases.

The autopsy report contradicts the official police report. Police reported that Tamon ran at the car and threw himself onto the hood, but his injuries told a different story. Tamon's injuries were consistent with being hit by a car. The autopsy report has been turned over to the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.

Tamon's family and friends, and the local community, are outraged. On June 9, they gathered at the spot where he was struck down for a rally and a march to the 69th precinct.

Tamon's family was joined by Constance Malcolm and Frank Graham, the parents of Ramarley Graham--who was chased into his apartment by narcotics officers and shot to death in front of his grandmother and 6-year-old brother on February 2, 2012 in the Bronx. They have been organizing weekly vigils demanding justice for their son.

At the rally, Frank Graham asked the question, "Whose child next?" He added, "They treat animals better than they treat us."

Tamika Mallory from the National Action Network reminded the crowd that the next child could be theirs.

The crowd grew to around 100 people as the march progressed, and marchers beckoned onlookers to join in, reminding them they could be next. Chants of "No justice, no peace," filled the air as the march approached the police station.

City Council member Charles Baron stood in front of the station and announced he was there to make a citizen's arrest--demanding that the officer responsible be arrested and tried for vehicular homicide, along with any officers involved in a cover-up. He addressed two officers, one Black and one Latino, who were posted at the entrance: "You are supposed to be a police officer who stops crime. Well, stop your police brothers from committing crimes."

Organizers charged the crowd to go back to their communities and organize--to tell them that what happened to Tamon Robinson can happen to them.

NEITHER TAMON Robinson now Trayvon Martin deserved to die. They were doing nothing wrong. The responsibility for their deaths lies with the actions of the men who jumped to the wrong conclusion based on their own prejudice. When the NYPD and George Zimmerman saw these young men, they assumed they were criminals. The question is why?

Race has been used now for over 500 years to justify that which cannot otherwise be justified. Capitalism and the United States were built on stolen land, with the labor of stolen people.

In New York City in 2011, 685,724 people were "stopped and frisked," with only 5.3 percent of those stops resulting in an arrest. Only 1.9 percent of those stops involved finding a weapon.

Black and Hispanic residents accounted for 85 percent of those stopped, even though they make up about half of the population: 41.6 percent of stops involve young Black and Latino people, even though they represent only 4.7 percent of the population. Of young Black men aged 14-24, there were more stops (169,124) than there are young Black men (158,406) in the city.

Nationally, due to "tough on crime" policies and the drug war, the U.S. has more people in prison (by proportion of the population) than any other nation on the planet. Forty percent of the more than 2 million people in federal, state or local jails and prisons are African American.

One of the worst examples is that of Angola Prison in Louisiana, which is located on a former plantation and run much in the same way as it has been since the end of the Civil War. It is not the only example. For-profit prisons and some state prisons are "farming out" inmates to provide cheap labor for corporations at sweat shop wages. Some jurisdictions are charging prisoners for their own incarceration.

The ramifications of being incarcerated go far beyond the time spent in jail or prison. Once convicted for a felony, a person is forever put into a second-class citizen status. It affects their ability to vote, obtain housing and jobs, to receive money for education or receive even the most basic assistance such as food stamps. It is the "New Jim Crow," as author Michelle Alexander writes.

Racism in the United States is alive and well. We need to insist that the persons responsible for the deaths of Tamon, Trayvon and all the other mother's sons and daughters that racial profiling has killed are held accountable.

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