BROWNSVILLE – Dozens of Brownsville community activists, friends and neighbors held a vigil on Monday, Oct. 28, to remember Kwesi Ashun.
Police Officer Lesly Lafontant fatally shot Ashun, 33, three days earlier during a confrontation inside a Brownsville nail salon. Doctors released the officer from Brookdale Hospital on Monday after he was hospitalized for a serious head injury he suffered in a fight with Ashun, whom family and friends said was mentally ill.
“My brother was not an out-of-control individual,” said Ashun’s sister, Ama Bartley, as she tried to hold back her tears. “People in his life that loved him were not afraid of him because he was peaceful.”
The deadly encounter began with Dewayne Hawkes, 26, walking into Goldmine Nail Salon on Mother Gaston Blvd. near Sutter Ave. and asking to use the bathroom, the New York Daily News reported. According to the police, Hawkes urinated on the floor after an employee refused to allow him to use the restroom, the newspaper said.
Salon employees asked two uniformed officers, who were on patrol, to remove Hawkes. Police officials said the officers tried to arrest Hawkes when they realized that he had an open warrant, but he resisted arrest.
Ashun, a T-shirt designer and vendor, rushed into the salon. The police fired a stun gun at Ashun but said it was ineffective. In the scuffle, Ashun hit Lafontant in the head with a metal chair, the police said. In response, Lafontant fired his gun six times, killing Ashun.
Ashun’s sister told the Daily News that he was bipolar. Three days before the shooting, the family sought help for him at Kings County Hospital. However, a crisis team at the hospital told them that there was nothing they could do.
The family and their supporters are demanding a full investigation into the shooting. They also want to know if the officers could have de-escalated the situation.
“My brother is a beautiful person that had a mental illness—he wasn’t his mental illness. He was so much more,” Bartley said. “For families dealing with mental health issues, we struggle along with them. This ending is horrific, and it can be avoided for other families if some serious changes are made.”
Activists said the vigil was a peaceful gathering that was not anti-police. However, there are some unanswered questions about what exactly happened inside the nail salon.
“Our community deserves to know the full truth of what happened. That’s the only way that healing will begin here in Brownsville,” said Camara Jackson, executive director of Elite Learners, Inc., a Brownsville anti-gun violence and youth mentoring organization.
Jackson called for transparency, adding that her organization plans to serve as a bridge between law enforcement and Brownsville as the investigation unfolds.
There’s a long history of mistrusting the police in the predominantly African-American community. On Oct. 8, a group of NYPD high-ranking officers met with Brownsville residence to discuss how they planned to enforce the state’s new marijuana decriminalization rules in that neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Lafontant, who was placed in a medically induced coma for 36 hours, was greeted by scores of fellow officers when he was wheeled out of the hospital hours before the vigil.
“I think it’s going to be a long road, he’s got a lot of damage to his face. I believe and I pray that he does make a full recovery. But he’s going to have a long road,” Lafontant’s commanding officer, Capt. Craig Edelman of the 73rd Precinct said, the Daily News reported.