Utica officials blast claims fatal accident was a hate crime

Published Aug 18, 2017 at 12:00pm

A community group has made claims against the City of Utica that an accident in which a boy on a bicycle was struck and killed by a motorist on Aug. 2, was intentional and should be considered a hate crime.

City officials, however, are assuring the public it was not an incident of hate or domestic terrorism as it continues to investigate the crash.

Community members, friends, teachers and supporters hosted a candlelight vigil Thursday evening in memory of Qasir Lee Brown, age 6, who police said was killed by a neighbor on Boyce Avenue who backed out of his driveway and over the boy twice at approximately 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2.

The name of the driver
involved has not yet been released.

​A group called the Utica Activist Coalition is claiming the Caucasian driver who struck Brown was in a violent rage and used racist hate speech before and after Brown was killed.

“Representatives of the Utica Police Department and the mayor’s office have only told the family what they can’t do to help provide justice, and not what they can do,” said Jen DeWeerth, a spokeswoman for the group.  

“They have refused to release the name of the man who struck Qasir.  There is no confidence on the part of the family, local clergy and teachers, or neighbors that a serious investigation is underway or that there is any intent by the district attorney to pursue justice.”

The coalition of local activist groups has decided that in solidarity with the spirit of Charlottesville, it is necessary to shine a light on the tragic event.  

“There will be no justice for a child of color unless the community stands up for the family and the neighbors, many of whom witnessed the killing of Qasir on the sidewalk just a few doors down from his home,” DeWeerth said.  

Mayor Robert Palmieri, Police Chief Mark Williams and Councilman William Phillips issued a joint statement about the incident and the investigation. In a written statement, the city officials indicated that while it is standard procedure not to comment on open investigations, they wanted to clarify rumors spreading across social media.

“Any notion the Utica Police Department is ‘covering this up’ is completely false. We’ve met with Qasir’s family several times, and UPD’s Criminal Investigation Department has and will continue to thoroughly investigate this incident,” the statement said.

“As a result of the ongoing investigation, UPD secured video which shows a portion of the accident. There have been claims the driver was traveling at a high speed and intentionally ‘mowed down’ Qasir. In coordination with the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office, and once Qasir’s family has an opportunity to view it first, the video will be released and shows the vehicle backing out of a driveway,” the statement added.

The officials also pointed out that to deem the accident “domestic terrorism” is “inaccurate” and false.

“We are proud of the international recognition Utica’s received for how we embrace diversity and welcome people from all walks of life into our community,” the statement said.

“For some people to compare Utica, or this tragic incident, to anything resembling the evil display of domestic terrorism and white supremacy that occurred in Charlottesville is inaccurate, unfair and reckless,” it added.

The Utica Activist Coalition includes labor unions, political parties, grassroots political action groups, and religious leaders united for racial justice in Utica and the region, it said.