Timothy Stansbury Jr. was buried six days after he was shot and killed by police, but it will take much longer before the controversy surrounding his death can be laid to rest.
After a state grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Stansbury, police are now faced with the task of rebuilding community relations, even as some city politicians and community leaders see the shooting as proof that major changes need to be made in the police department.
Then, there is the turmoil the shooting has caused among rank-and-file cops, as the 23,000-member Patrolman’s Benevolent Association has called for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to resign. They are angry that comments Kelly made were unfair to the officer who shot Stansbury.
The shooting will not result in homicide or manslaughter charges against the officer, Richard Neri, who shot nineteen-year-old Stansbury on the rooftop of a Brooklyn public housing development. Though Stansbury was unarmed, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said their appeared to be “no justification” for the shooting within hours after it happened, a grand jury cleared Neri on February 17, part of a trend, say some.
Jurors were reportedly moved by Neri’s tearful testimony that he had been caught by surprise when Stansbury, on his way to a party, opened the door. Neri reportedly also testified that he has no memory of firing the gun.
At a press conference the day after the grand jury’s ruling, Stansbury’s family denounced the ruling.
"That wasn't no accident," Stansbury’s father, Timothy Stansbury Sr., reportedly said. "Officer Neri, you need to come and tell the truth about what happened."
Federal prosecutors announced at the press conference they were beginning a thorough review of the evidence in the shooting. Neri could potentially still face criminal charges that he violated Stansbury’s civil rights. On February 26, several city council members proposed a resolution that would support a federal civil rights probe.
Not All Negative Community Attitudes
The ruling undoubtedly angered many residents in the neighborhood. But police efforts to ingratiate themselves with those living in public housing have not gone unnoticed by Tina Oliver.
“I give them an â€S’ for satisfactory,” said Oliver, a longtime resident of the Lafayette Gardens public housing development, just a few blocks from the Louis Armstrong Houses where Stansbury was killed.
Though police declined to speak for this article about their efforts to build relationships with tenants in public housing, Oliver said she appreciated things like after-school programs and Christmas parties for children organized by police, who have a headquarters across the street.
Within the New York Police Housing Bureau, there are nine divisions that work to patrol housing developments where more than 700,000 New Yorkers live. Each division has its own community affairs unit, which holds meetings at least once a month with residents in each housing development.
“They’re here to help,” said Oliver.
Change In Procedure?
Two members of the New York City Council, Charles Barron and Bill Perkins, have begun to lobby for a change in police policy, which currently allows guns to be drawn during vertical patrols in public housing. After the shooting, Commissioner Kelly announced that this procedure -- as well as police training -- would be reviewed by a special panel, but he has also said that officers should be able to decide when to draw their guns.
Barron, at a press conference, disagreed. "No officer should be carrying a gun out on the rooftops in our neighborhoods, when you know that is a normal route for passage. And if you are afraid to police us, then get out of our communities and go police a community you feel comfortable in."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at the funeral for Stansbury, reportedly said he was speaking for eight million New Yorkers who probably said, "There but for the grace of God, go I."
But many police must empathize more with Officer Neri, an 11-year veteran who had never fired his gun while on duty before shooting Stansbury. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association has called for the resignation of Commissioner Kelly, citing his public judgment after the shooting.
"The commissioner does not afford the benefit of a doubt to the very police officers who risk their lives to make this city safe," said Patrick Lynch, head of the 23,000-member union.
The decision by the police union to go after Kelly, who recently enjoyed a 70 percent approval rating among New Yorkers, occurred after 400 delegates gave a vote of “no-confidence” in the commissioner. Many of these delegates chanted, “Kelly must go,” at a press conference announcing the PBA’s position.
"The message that commissioner Kelly has sent to New York City police officers is: do your job and risk your life, but you are on your own."
"We should take a non-confidence vote in the PBA. We have the best police commissioner this city has ever seen. He's done exactly what's rightâ€¦Cover-ups are not in anybody's interest -- and it's certainly not in the interest of the world's greatest police department not to go out there and be open,” Bloomberg told Newsday.
Neri is currently on modified duty, without a gun or a badge, and may still face police department disciplinary charges.