Last Thursday, Vassell’s parents Eric and Lorna, along with dozens of activists and friends, gathered at Utica Avenue and Montgomery Street, the intersection where the 34-year-old was killed in a hail of bullets.
They held a candlelight vigil in front of the barbershop where Vassell and his friends often hung out. Eric Vassell recalled the moment he found out his son was shot.
“From that day on, my world turned around,” he said. “I’m in a different world.”
Vassell said his younger son was the first to inform him about Saheed’s death. He remembered Saheed as a “wonderful young man” and a loving son and father.
“He was suffering from bipolar disorder, but it did not stop Saheed from being a person,” he said. “He was kind to everyone that he met.
“His memory will forever live on,” Vassell added.
The incident began with three 911 calls from people who saw Saheed holding what turned out to be a metal pipe. When four plainclothes officers arrived on the scene, they fired at Vassell after he allegedly took a shooting stance and pointed the object at them, according to the NYPD.
Vassell was shot nine times, according to the medical examiner’s office, including once in the head and twice in the chest.
On March 29, the office of Attorney General Letitia James released a report on the death of Saheed Vassell. Investigators found that the officers’ actions were “legally justified,” and that there was not enough evidence to warrant a criminal prosecution against the cops.
“The death of Saheed Vassell was a tragedy, and I extend my deepest condolences to his family and loved ones,” James said in a statement.
The report also issued a recommendation that 911 operators and dispatchers receive comprehensive critical incident training. The unit also recommended that the NYPD develop a policy to govern the release of public information in critical officer-involved incidents.
“We urge the New York Police Department to implement our recommendations,” James said.
But friends and supporters of the Vassell family did not accept the findings of the investigation.
“There was no justice given to us, no justice given to his family when Letitia James told them that their investigation was closed and there would be no indictment,” said Kerbie Joseph, an organizer with the Audre Lorde Project.
Assemblyman Charles Barron said James will go down in history as “the first black woman attorney general to let go killer cops.”
“We should not give Attorney General Tish James a pass just because she’s black,” Barron said. “We’ve got to hold her accountable.
Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, said like Saheed, he’s also a black man from Crown Heights. He warned that like Saheed was shot, “any one of us could be taken out.”
After the vigil, the mourners marched down Utica Avenue until they reached Eastern Parkway.
“We’re going to fight, disrupt and shut it down until we get justice for Saheed,” Griffith said.