5 things to know about the Black man shot by the NYPD on Brooklyn street corner

There was more to Saheed Vassell than his mental illness.

Saheed Vassell was killed by police in a hail of bullets, described the 34-year man who suffered from mental health issues. 

Saheed Vassell thegrio.com
Saheed Vassell was shot and killed by NYPD officers. (Courtesy of Facebook)

New York City is known for its quirky yet harmless characters. That’s how residents in the Crown Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood where Saheed Vassell was killed by police in a hail of bullets, described the 34-year man who suffered from mental health issues.

“All he did was just walk around the neighborhood,” said Andre Wilson. “He speaks to himself, usually he has an orange bible or a rosary in his hand. He never had a problem with anyone.”

“The officers from the neighborhood, they know him,” Wilson told the New York Daily News. “He has no issue with violence. Everybody just knows he’s just mentally challenged. This shouldn’t have happened at all.”

On Wednesday afternoon police reportedly responded to 911 calls for a man waving a gun at pedestrians. When police arrived on the scene, however, news reports cite that Vassell was actually holding a metal pipe and “took a two-handed shooting stance” and pointed at them.”

According to the New York Daily News, police say they were responding to three 911 calls that came in around 4:40 p.m. about a Black man wearing a brown jacket waving what people thought was a silver gun on the corner of Utica Ave. and Montgomery St., NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said at a press conference.

When the officers got to the street corner, Vassell turned to face them, aiming the object at them, Monahan said.

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“The suspect then took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers,” the chief said, holding up a surveillance photo of a blurry figure standing next to a bodega ice machine with his arms outstretched.

Four officers— one in uniform, three in plainclothes — fired 10 shots, striking Vassell multiple times at about 4:45 p.m., Monahan said.

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No firearm was found at the scene — and police said Vassell had been holding a metal pipe with a knob on the end. He was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he died.

At the press conference, Monahan said none of the officers wore body cameras.

Who was Saheed Vassell?

The 34-year-old Brooklyn man is more than just the latest statistic of police brutality against Black bodies in America.

  1. Vassell was the father of a 15-year-old son, Tyshawn, who described him as a caring Dad who looked after him. “He cared for everybody. If you saw him, he’d always be in a laughing mood. You would never catch him down,” the teen told the New York Daily News.

2. His father, Eric Vassell, said his son struggled with bipolar disorder, but hadn’t taken his medication for a year. “We were always worried for him. We would say should anything happen to him, we just have to do what we can do,” the elder Vassell said.

3. He was born in Jamaica and was a welder by trade.

4. He went to Wingate High School in Brooklyn, reportedly one of the city’s most troubled and violent schools.

5. He was on good terms with the mother of his child. Vassell’s ex-partner and Tyshawn’s mother, Sherlan Smith, told the New York Daily News, “He was a good father. He wasn’t a bad person. No matter how they want to spin it, he wasn’t a bad person.” Smith added, “Too many Black people are dying at hands of police officers and it’s about time something be done.”