Reporting and photos: Nissa Tzun
Brooklyn, NY - An African American father of two named Nasheem Prioleau, 30, and resident of the Gowanus Houses, the home of police homicide victims, Nicholas Heyward, Jr., 13, and Montique Smalls, was shot multiple times by two undercover NYPD police officers tonight around 8PM by Baltic Street and Hoyt Street. Prioleau is reported to have very recently been released from prison. Forced Trajectory Project was contacted by a witness an hour after the shooting, who wished to remain anonymous.
Nasheem Prioleau's high school graduation picture. Courtesy News 12 Brooklyn from the Nasheem Prioleau family archive.
"It sounded like a war zone. It was so many gunshots," said the witness who did not see the shooting but heard it from outside their window. "Police are everywhere [right now], including helicopters." The witness and their spouse both heard over 20 shots outside their window. Authorities say an NYPD anti-crime unit responded to a shoot out between Prioleau and another person and fired approximately 30 shots at Prioleau. Prioleau was brought to Brooklyn Hospital in critical condition, and was later announced dead. Despite his criminal record, friends and family characterize him as a "nice guy."
The Gowanus Houses sit on the corner of Baltic Street and Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. The shooting occurred here. November 13, 2018, Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Nissa Tzun
Hours after the shooting, police were not allowing Gowanus residents to leave the front of their buildings. The witness, who has been a Gowanus resident for decades, has been impacted numerous times by the continuous police presence at their place of residence. Gowanus has been historically labeled as a "crime-ridden neighborhood," which NYPD has responded with increased police presence over the years. But long-time resident and younger brother of police homicide victim, 13-year old Nicholas Heyward, Jr., Quentin Heyward, has a different perspective. Crime in Gowanus has been "on the all-time low for years," stated Heyward. "It's just as much crime as anywhere in New York [City]. It's only two blocks [wide] - compared to how big other communities are. How many people have been killed by police [in the area] is outrageous."
In our conversation, Heyward made sure to mention and acknowledge 11-year old Briana Ojeda who lived around the corner from Gowanus. In August, 2010, the little girl suffered an asthma attack and as her mother, Carmen Ojeda, drove frantically to the hospital, she was stopped by NYPD officer Alfonso Mendez who refused to help them and proceeded to arrest Ojeda for a traffic violation. The arrest interrupted Ojeda's attempt to bring her daughter to the hospital and she died shortly after. Not less than a year after Briana's death in March of 2011, Johnathan Smith was brutally beaten by NYPD and died a few blocks from where this most recent shooting took place.
In September of 1994, 13-year old Nicholas Heyward, Jr. was gunned down by NYPD officer Brian George, a rookie police officer, while playing a game of "cops and robbers," with his friends on the 14th floor stairwell of one of the Gowanus buildings. Heyward was carrying a plastic toy gun with a giant orange tip when George barged in on the boys and almost immediately shot Heyward in the abdomen after he dropped the toy gun and declared, "We're only playing, we're only playing!" His father, the late Nicholas Heyward, Sr., protested police violence and the increasing police presence in the Gowanus community. He reported to Forced Trajectory Project being harassed repeatedly over the years and believed he was targeted because he was continually pursuing justice for his son.
With the recent murders of Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson, both African Americans killed by Texas police in their own homes, the notion of police presence and their role in Black neighborhoods has populated social media accounts with phrases like, "Do not call the police," and "Check on your people." In a 2017 study by the Urban Institute, researchers found that residents in high-crime, low-income communities have little faith in police in regards to being effective in their job, and having their community's interest as a focal point. Over half of respondents on a survey of Perceptions of Police Bias agreed that police carry bias and treat residents different based on their race and ethnicity. Yet, over 70% of residents agree that they would call the police to report a crime. The issue is not a simple one and residents who live in communities like The Gowanus Houses are conflicted, finding themselves in a rock and a hard place, perpetually in the midst of crime and policing. "There are good things, there are bad things," stated the witness in response to how they feel about the police presence in Gowanus. "But I can't talk about this now .. I'm exhausted."