Yesterday, police refuted reports that 16-year-old Dayshen McKenzie's death was a racially-motivated hate crime, insisting that in fact it was gang-related, and McKenzie died due to a preexisting health condition. Speaking from the pulpit at the National Action Network headquarters in Harlem today, Reverend Al Sharpton was critical of that response, and demanded a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the teen's death.
"This investigation needs to be conducted in a way that the community can have confidence," Sharpton said. "We just saw what happened when a grand jury had a videotape of Eric Garner on Staten Island."
That's the second time that Sharpton has brought up Eric Garner's death in relation to McKenzie's: following initial reports that a group of mostly white teens chased McKenzie while shouting racist slurs, leading him to suffer a fatal asthma attack, Sharpton posted a statement to Facebook in which he argued that "the Staten Island District Attorney's office (under the former prosecutor) showed questionable investigative skills in the Eric Garner case...we cannot in confidence rely on the DA's office to pursue this matter to the degree the community feels will bring justice to the family of Dayshen McKenzie."
As the Daily News first reported, McKenzie died on May 27th after being chased through Staten Island backyards and succumbing to an asthma attack. A witness who attempted to save him, former NYPD officer and 9/11 responder Diane Fatigati, was quoted by the tabloid as saying that his death was a hate crime, but police said yesterday that she'd since retracted that statement. She also told the Staten Island Advance that the incident "looked racial to me," and told NY1 that "there's a bunch of white kids chasing a bunch of black kids and that's what it looked like to me."
Yesterday, Sharpton also drew parallels between McKenzie's death and the death of Michael Griffith in 1986, when a group of white youths chased the 23-year-old black man into highway traffic, where he was killed by an oncoming vehicle. NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce called that comparison "inaccurate and irresponsible."
"You're already raising the suspicion of the community by dismissing things and leaking things to the media like this," Sharpton said today. "Until you have an investigation, you don't know what you're talking about...we are gonna stand with this family so they can get answers...Who was arrested for this pre-arranged fight? Are you saying they had the right to chase people? He wouldn't have been running if someone wasn't chasing him. Yes, the community and family shouldn't rush to judgment—but don't rush out the room without answering all the questions and without understanding the sanctity of this young man's life."
As the Staten Island Advance reports, McKenzie's mother appeared with Sharpton today, and similarly demanded more answers: she said that "all the officers can tell me is my son is gone and it's an open-and-shut case? They didn't even tell me he was gone; a licensed registered nurse did that."
According to the New York Times, the city medical examiner's office is conducting tests to determine the exact cause of McKenzie's death. The teenager was an aspiring rapper, who enjoyed spending time with his friends and playing basketball. He would have been 17 in two months. His family is currently trying to raise funds for his funeral.