A Bronx Tale: Murdered by police for Marijuana?

A Bronx community is investigating the shooting death of an 18-year-old Bronx resident in his home where he flushed a marijuana cigarette down the toilet.

Last Thursday, Bronx narcotics officer Richard Haste, 30, charged at 18-year-old Ramarley Graham. Graham fled to his grandmother’s apartment. Haste kicked the door in. Graham ran into the bathroom where he flushed a marijuana cigarette.

Haste said he yelled “GUN” before he shot the teenager in the chest. But the 18-year-old didn’t posses a gun. Only small amounts of marijuana.

New York City journalists and police are investigating police treatment of Ramarley Graham’s grandmother after the incident. The grandmother, 58-year-old Patricia Hartley, was taken to the police station and questioned after her grandson was shot in the chest. He died in the hospital.

When all is said and done, Ramarley Graham died because he possessed a tiny amount of marijuana. Whether the patrolling officer returns to duty or not and whether he is or is not charged with murder, the family and friends of an 18-year-old are grieving. And they are angry with police for what appears to be a search initiated by narcotics officer to seize marijuana. Even if only trace amounts.

In September 2011, activists penned New York City as the American misdemeanor marijuana arrest capital. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued orders to his department not to criminally charge people found with marijuana in their possession unless the drug is in plain view or being smoked. That law has been in effect since 1977.

Police details to public media sources don't yet reveal why they chased Ramarley Graham. What is clear is that Ramarley was targeted by narcotics officers. What is clear is that Ramarley had a small amount of marijuana on his person at the time of his death.

Graham was stopped about 3 p.m. last Thursday afternoon on White Plains Road and East 228th Street. Police haven’t said why they stopped Graham. Graham then fled to his home on 229th Street where his grandmother witnessed his murder and what is a described as a “struggle” with an officer that resulted in a 9 mm weapon discharge.

Those who knew Ramarley Graham say Graham ran from the police because he was afraid. A story written in the New York Times quotes neighbors who knew Ramarley. They described him as a local and unselfish young man who played football with the neighborhood kids, purchased peppermint tea from a local deli and offered to pick up coffee every morning for a neighbor and mom.

Marijuana advocates in a press release contend that under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, the NYPD has made 227,093 marijuana arrests from 2007-2011. Under Giuliani, who was mayor for 24 years (1978-2001), NYPD arrested 226,861 for the same offense.

At issue is the disproportionate rate that African Americans are illegally searched, seized and charged with marijuana possession. This, despite the fact that more white people smoke marijuana than African Americans. In NYPD, advocates are angry because laws are in place that prohibit police from criminally charging suspects who voluntarily surrender marijuana from their pockets after police request or inquiry into whether or not they have marijuana in their pockets or on their person.

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