The Killing of Ramarley Graham

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When people talk about ending the War on Drugs, or decriminalizing marijuana, or reining in stop and frisk, they are not simply talking about the right of private citizens to get high, they are talking about the right of private citizens to not be subject to lethal violence at the hands of the state:


The fatal shot came shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday. Members of the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, who had pursued Mr. Graham based on a report that he was armed, broke open the door to the second-floor apartment where he lived with his family on East 229th Street, Mr. Kelly said. 

As the first officer came through, Mr. Graham emerged from the back of the apartment running toward them, then veered into the bathroom, the police said. "Show me your hands! Show me your hands!" the officer yelled, said Mr. Kelly, who cited the account of a second officer who trailed the first officer into the apartment. The police did not release the names of any of the officers. Mr. Graham was black; the officer who shot him is white. 

Inside the apartment, Mr. Kelly said, the first officer, who was in the hallway outside the bathroom, yelled, "Gun! Gun!" suggesting to the officers behind him that Mr. Graham was armed. "The partner said he then heard a shot," Mr. Kelly said. "It is at that point we believe the shooting officer fired once from his 9-millimeter service firearm." 

 The bullet hit Mr. Graham in the upper chest, striking a lung and his aorta, killing him, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner. Mr. Kelly added that investigators had yet to find evidence that Mr. Graham was armed. 

"No gun was recovered," the commissioner said. Rather, the police said, a bag of marijuana was found in the toilet, raising the possibility that Mr. Graham bolted to the bathroom to try to dispose of it.

If you want some sense of the human dimension of what happened here, watch this video. There are now calls for a criminal investigation and charges. I think charges are possible, but a conviction almost extremely unlikely. 

For all practical purposes, if an officer, pursuing an arrest, believes you have endangered his life, and can demonstrate that belief, he or she can kill you. 


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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