2020年1月25日 星期六

Race/Related: ‘You Killed My Brother’

How the death of one son at the hands of the police set in motion the death of another.
Na’im and Khiel as children in Bed-Stuy.
Author Headshot

By Pierre-Antoine Louis

I am a first-generation Haitian-American and I remember, when I was about 9 years old, asking my father why he moved to the United States from Haiti. “Because I wanted you and your sisters to have every opportunity I didn’t have,” he told me. From that moment on, I’ve tried my best not to disappoint my father, knowing how much he sacrificed to make sure I had a good education and a good life.

What I don’t think my father anticipated when he decided to move our family to the United States was that, regardless of my education, his protection or my potential, there are certain realities you can’t escape when walking down the street as a young black man in America.

Denise Elliott-Owens, a hardworking mother from Trinidad living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, tried to make a better life for her family. She lost two of her sons, Khiel and Na’im, to police shootings. My colleague Joseph Goldstein wrote about her harrowing story, and I talked to him about reporting on the tragic death of these two brothers.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ADVERTISEMENT

When did you first decide you wanted to write about Denise Elliott-Owens and the death of her two sons?

As soon as I learned that the two shootings were connected, which was at the end of 2017. I first heard about the shootings while investigating something totally different. And when that project came out in 2018, I wrote Denise Elliott-Owens’s name down, looked up her address, and when I felt ready, I went over there one afternoon hoping to meet her. A lot of time has passed between now and then. I kept trying to learn more. I put this story down for many months at a time but kept returning to it.

Why did it take such a long time to finish this story?

This was a story that took me a long time to figure out how to tell. I hope I figured it out. It took a long time to feel that I knew enough to write it, and so I let months go by as I kept at it. But for me, it’s these two deaths that are connected and it’s how the first death helped set in motion the second death. Na’im was 15 when his brother died, and he was at this precarious moment in life. His brother Khiel was killed under this tragic, awful set of circumstances. At one point he was holding knives and threatening police officers, but by the time they shot him, he’s only got a hairbrush in his hand.

ADVERTISEMENT

So after Khiel dies, Na’im starts getting stopped by the police, because he’s now of an age where the cops take notice of him and of how he’s responding to them. He’s running. He’s glaring at them. And he’s doing this sort of thing because the police just killed his brother. It changes who he thinks he is. Within a year, he’s in Rikers. He’s facing five years in prison, and he does it, then he gets out and he’s killed within a year.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

I remember growing up in Flatbush, where my friends and I feared being stopped and frisked by the police. It wasn’t because we had anything on us, it was because we feared being targeted for being young black men. You touched on this in the piece. What did the young black men you talked to say about their experience with the police in New York City?

ADVERTISEMENT

A lot. We look back on stop and frisk, and it’s an era. I can only imagine that if you were a 15- or 16-year-old black teenager, you knew that the police were now stopping you, but did you categorically understand that you were being stopped more often than the generation before you? I remember talking with one of Na’im’s friends who said something that really echoed from years earlier.

He was describing his first stop. I think he was 14 years old. There’s a public housing project, Stuyvesant Gardens, and he said that he was stopped for criminal trespass for standing on a corner that was technically public housing property. To him, it looked like a sidewalk. It is a sidewalk. He thought of it as his neighborhood, where he could meet friends. And so it was that sort of bewilderment: “What do you mean criminal trespass? I’m outside on a street corner, and this is my neighborhood.”

By the ninth and 10th grade, being stopped was a regular occurrence for these young teenagers. And in subtle ways, it changed their behavior. They didn’t want to walk outside alone, so they would wait for their friends to come pick them up so they could walk together, which might make them more likely to attract the police. These were coping mechanisms. I remember talking with Denise, the mother, about these menacing but also inane conversations she’d hear on the other end of the line. “Who are you talking to?” the police officer would ask, and Na’im would say, “my mom.”

Ms. Elliott-Owens, on Gates Avenue, near where her sons were shot by police.Ruddy Roye for The New York Times

Is there anything you would like to add?

I was struck just in talking with this family for so long. They feel that their sons or brothers, Khiel and Na’im, have been unfairly represented in the press. I was struck by how unguarded they were with me, and I’m grateful for their willingness and openness to just meet me and talk to me about their family. This is a story really about the whole family, and it was humbling to have that trust.

EDITOR’S PICKS

We publish many articles that touch on race. Here are a few you shouldn’t miss.

Tell your friends.

Invite someone to subscribe to the Race/Related newsletter. Or email your thoughts and suggestions to racerelated@nytimes.com. Race/Related is a newsletter focused on race, identity and culture. It is published weekly on Saturday mornings at 7 a.m. and edited by Lauretta Charlton.

Need help? Review our newsletter help page or contact us for assistance.

You received this email because you signed up for Race/Related from The New York Times.

To stop receiving these emails, unsubscribe or manage your email preferences.

Subscribe to The Times

|

Connect with us on:

instagram

Change Your Email|Privacy Policy|Contact Us

The New York Times Company. 620 Eighth Avenue New York, NY 10018

沒有留言:

張貼留言