NEW YORK ‑ On September 6, John Collado, a 43-year-old father and grandfather was shot and killed by an NYPD undercover officer during "a drug bust" in Washington Heights. The witnesses' account and a video of the tragedy differ from the police officer's statement to the NYPD. On September 17, over 150 neighbors, family and friends of Collado marched to the 34th Precinct headquarters demanding justice.
The march was led by the Collado family, included families with children in hand and baby carriages, contingents from local churches, neighbors and friends. Many people spoke tearfully of John Collado as a "good family man". The main demand was "Justice for John Collado".
As they marched through the streets of this predominately Dominican community more people joined the marcher from the sidelines. In Spanish and English, the marchers responded to the question, "What do you want?" with "Justice.
Many friends and family said prayers at the rally, in Spanish and English, but also spoke forcefully, questioning the policies of the NYPD and demanding something be done. A petition is circulating calling for the federal government to investigate the NYPD. Many speakers asked, "What will bring justice and hope to our underserved neighborhood?"
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the neighborhood, called for a thorough investigation. " There has to be justice," he said. "We want justice in upper Manhattan".
Estavan Nembhard, a community activist who helped organize the march, spoke out to challenge some of the misleading newspaper accounts, "Justice means more than a badge and a gun. It's basically about people and human rights and that applies to every body including those accused of drug dealing "
He added, "This is an important issue. This is not the first time police murders have happened in our community. The rights of the people of Washington Heights are violated every day. This march is to demand that the police killing stop."
According to eyewitnesses to the September 6 shooting, an undercover officer had apprehended Rangel Batista, age 23, on suspicion of drug dealing. A scuffle ensued and that is when Mr. Collado intervened. Mr. Collado and Mr. Batista were raised in the same apartment building and had known each other for years.
When Mr. Collado intervened he put the undercover officer in a chokehold. The officer claims he identified himself but witnesses say that he did not. The undercover officer then broke away from and shot Mr. Collado point blank in the stomach according to eyewitnesses.
Collado's niece, Banayz Taveras, who is studying to become a nurse, tried to help her uncle after the shooting, but was instead arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Mr. Collado was taken to Harlem Hospital were he was initially listed in stable condition, but was later pronounced dead at approximately 2:30 a.m., according to reports.
Batista was apprehended after the shooting but drugs were not found in his possession. Many see this as another case of a police officer caught in a volatile situation, shooting first even though there was no other weapon in sight. Another concern is that African American and Latino people often appear to be special targets of police shootings. The family of John Collado has retained a lawyer to represent them in a wrongful death suit.
And a policy that rankles in the Washington Heights neighborhood is the police program of "stop and frisk." Ninety percent of its victims are black and Latino youth, adding to animosity between community residents and the police.
While the searches are being done in the name of "getting guns off the streets" very few guns have been found but arrest for carrying the legal minimum amount of marijuana have sky rocketed to 140 a day in the city. Civil liberties groups and local elected officials are calling for an end to the stop and frisk program, but Police Commissioner Kelly is ignoring their demands.
What community residents would like to see is major movement on the jobs crisis, such as President Obama's "American Jobs Act", that would actually put large numbers of young people to work, close corporate tax loopholes and put the money into public education.
One protester told us that the Mayor and Police Commissioner do a lot bragging about how successful they have been at lowering crime by their so called war on drugs and getting rid of guns in NY City. "But," she stated, "prisons are packed with innocent people who have been entrapped, the drugs and guns still flood our communities and the police are given a free hand to use lethal force with the slightest provocation. It's a disgrace that police are rarely convicted even when it comes to rape and murder." She added, "Bloomberg and Kelly have nothing to brag about".
The marchers where encouraged by all the speakers to continue the struggle for justice. The next step they announced is to attendance next weeks 34th Precinct Community Board meeting and make their voices heard.