Funeral held for Ramarley Graham, teen shot by police

February 18, 2012 3:31:34 PM PST
An 18-year-old man gunned down in his home by a police officer who mistakenly thought he had a gun was recalled at his funeral as a music-loving romantic who met his girlfriend on Valentine's Day four years ago.

Several hundred mourners packed a church in the Bronx on Saturday to celebrate the life and condemn the death of Ramarley Graham.

"Ramarley, you are gone but not forgotten," his cousin Salena Brown said as she eulogized him by recalling his love for the young, the old and animals of all kinds.

She said they had a "special place in his heart."

She described Graham as a "romantic who met his girlfriend on Valentine's Day 2008."

Before a service that lasted more than two hours, some mourners approached the then-open white casket, where Graham rested, dressed in white. His father kissed his forehead. Just before the funeral began, the casket was closed, its lid covered in white flowers.

A red heart-shaped balloon had escaped to the tall ceiling of the church above the casket, where it remained pinned through the service. A sign over the altar read: "Celebrating Black History Month."

Graham was unarmed when he was shot Feb. 2 by a drug enforcement officer who chased him into his Bronx house, shooting him in a bathroom. The officer and his sergeant are on desk duty while prosecutors investigate. It was the third time in a week that police had fatally shot a suspect.

Before civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton left Graham's service to attend the New Jersey funeral for singer Whitney Houston, he pledged that Graham will not be forgotten.

"This is an unnatural and inexcusable occasion because the young man was killed in an unjust way, in my opinion," Sharpton said. "The reason we are outraged: If he is not safe in his bathroom, none of us are. ... The police were out of line. We've been down this road before."

Sharpton said a steady dialogue with city officials was not enough and people might need to take to the streets more frequently if they are not safe in their homes.

"There's a difference between access and justice," he said.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has ordered a review of the street narcotics division following Graham's shooting, which was seen by his 6-year-old brother and his grandmother, who was taken by officers for questioning.

"Obviously, it is a very, very traumatic situation for the grandmother," Kelly said last week. "She was present when this happened, and she certainly should have been shown a sensitivity to that issue."

At the funeral, retired New York Police Department Detective Graham Weatherspoon recalled that his grandfather organized others to chase the Ku Klux Klan from his town and his great-grandfather put a hatchet in a slave owner's head to escape oppression. He said his great-grandfather "did what he had to do because, if he had not done it, I would not be here."

He said Graham's death represented a turning point.

"At some point," he said, "you have to do something."

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