Gambian petition demands fair investigation in US police killing

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Activists in The Gambia have delivered a petition to the United States embassy in the country calling for a thorough investigation into the police killing of the son of a retired Gambian diplomat in the US state of Georgia.

The petition urges the US government to release body camera footage showing the fatal shooting of Momodou Lamin Sisay late last month during an attempted traffic stop in the town of Snellville. Georgia police said in a preliminary report that Sissay, 39, flashed a gun at the officers, prompting them to shoot. Sisay opened fire at police during the exchange, according to the report. 

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Gambian activist Madi Jobarteh said the petition, which was given on Monday to Rebecca McKnight, a regional security officer at the US embassy in Banjul, is also a statement of solidarity with George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis on May 25 when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd's killing has sparked protests across the US and elsewhere against police brutality and racial injustice.

It calls for the "dismantling of institutionalised racism" in the US and an overhaul of how African Americans are treated by police.

"[We] demand a thorough investigation of the killing of Momodou Lamin Sisay by making the police to release their videos on the incident," Jobarteh told Al Jazeera, adding the petition had the support of Sisay's family. "But also [we] demand the investigation of the murder of George Floyd and to hold those responsible for the killing of African Americans."

He said justice would "bring great relief to our people here and in America", adding that "African migrants equally [face] racism and police brutality in the US".

Jobarteh said he and other activists planned to hold a rally in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement when coronavirus restrictions allowed.

The delivery of the petition came nearly a week after The Gambia's foreign affairs ministry said it had asked its embassy in Washington, DC to "engage the relevant US authorities including the State Department to seek a transparent, credible and objective investigation in the matter". 

The embassy has since sent two representatives to Georgia, according to a family friend of Sisay.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) told Al Jazeera that body camera footage had not been released because the investigation remained open. She added investigators had "met and briefed officials with the Embassy of the Republic of The Gambia" and would remain in contact during the probe.

Pursuit and standoff 

According to an initial report from GBI, police attempted to pull Sisay over for a vehicle tag violation in the early hours of May 29. When Sisay did not stop, the police chased his vehicle and used a "pursuit intervention technique" that forced him off the road.

The report said Sisay did not comply with police commands to show his hands and pointed a handgun at the officers when the tried to enter the car. The officers then opened fire on Sisay's vehicle and took cover.

During an ensuing standoff with a SWAT team, the preliminary report said, Sisay fired his weapon at the officers, one of whom returned fire, killing him.

Friends have reportedly rejected that version of events and have called on witnesses to come forward.

Sisay's father, Lare Sisay, a retired diplomat who used to work for the United Nations Development Fund, told Gambian media he was withholding judgment on the incident pending results of an autopsy and findings from a private investigator.

Still, he described the incident as uncharacteristic of his son, whom he described to local media as "somebody who abhors violence". In a Facebook post, he described the younger Sisay as "a very pious and disciplined young man".

'Trying to find answers'

Momodou Lamin Sisay [Family photo]

Abdul Jaiteh, a Georgia lawyer representing the family, questioned whether police had done all they could to de-escalate the situation if the police account proved accurate.

"The family is trying to find answers as to what happened. Was this incident avoidable? Could the police have exercised more restraint? Apply more negotiating tactics to get the suspect to surrender?" he said. "There are a lot of details involved. But in my belief, the decision to kill was done hastily."

Jaiteh added the investigation would be under added pressure given the current climate in the US following the death of Floyd. To date, the four officers involved in the Minneapolis killing have been charged. Protests entered their 15th day across the US on Tuesday. 

Habib Mbye, a family friend in Atlanta who has been in contact with Lare Sisay and other family members, said GBI had so far been "open" and communicative with the family. 

He said family and friends in the US and The Gambia were closely following the investigation and hoped to find the truth of what happened.

"It's very incumbent on us living to make sure that this doesn't happen to somebody else's kid, friend, any other person," he said.

"We have to follow up to the end and just get the truth out."

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