Op-Ed: Remembering Councilman James E. Davis

James Davis archive still frame

New York City Councilman James E. Davis (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights) was slain inside New York City Hall on Wednesday, July 23, 2003. This week marks the 17th anniversary of that horrific incident.Looking back at that day in history few people will not be able to remember exactly where they were at and what they were doing when they heard the news of Councilman Davis’ death. On that fateful day Councilman Davis entered New York City Hall in the company of one Othniel Askew; little did Davis know at that time that Askew was armed with an illegal and unlicensed .40 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun hell bent on achieving an unlawful means. Moments after entering City Hall–for unknown reasons Davis was possibly lured to the spectator balcony overlooking the City Council Chamber.

It was there that after seven gun shots, the course of history and civic affairs was changed forever. Davis was mortally wounded. NYPD Police Officer Richard B. Burt was normally assigned to a uniformed post at the City Hall gates. At the time of the shooting Burt was detailed to provide personal security for City Council Speaker A. Gifford Miller. When the gunshots exploded everyone hit the floor and some scurried to hide under tables. Officialdom asserts that Officer Burt looked up while gunshots were being fired and took aim at Askew and fired five shots striking him multiply. The rest is history.

James E. Davis

Many questions remain unanswered to date. One, how did Burt from his vantage point on the Council Chamber floor know Askew was a killer–and not a law enforcement officer taking police action? Could Askew have disarmed an assailant or otherwise been a crime victim before he was shot dead by Burt? Many believe Askew was part of a wide-ranging criminal plot to silence Davis. And, they argue that plot may well have include elected public officials, law enforcement officials and even real estate industry titans. For the proceeding decade Davis was a loud voice against department stores who sold toy guns to kids making tens of millions of dollars, against political corruption and police brutality–there were many who wanted Davis gone. Folks argue that Askew was killed after he slayed Davis to keep him from telling who hired him to finish Davis off.

Immediately after Davis’ murder a series of civic actions transformed Davis’ Council district in general and the Fort Greene neighborhood in particular. Things Davis would NEVER support and fought against. First, Fort Greene was rezoned to transform the six story buildings that today are thirty story buildings. Second, ten thousand Black folks have been gentrified out of Fort Greene and replaced by well-to-do white folks. Third, the Barclay Center rose up. Fourth, Fort Greene’s NYCHA developments have been cut up into pieces have handed over to real estate developers–something Davis would NEVER have allowed to happen. Fifth, against the best interest of the Fort Greene Community, a sleazy Business Improvement District was ushered in under the hand of one Phillip Kellogg who oversaw the closure of 137 Black-owned small businesses–something Davis would not have allowed to happen.

It’s time to reopen the investigation into the murder of Councilman James E. Davis to discern who else was involved. Its time to open the files on this incident and get answers. Not only was The Davis Family robbed of James E. Davis–so was the Community robbed of Davis’ considerable talent and personal integrity. Officialdom is concealing many cameras and videos from that fateful day. There were NYPD cameras all around City Hall inside and outside. Moreover, its been learned that various State and Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies had pending criminal investigations into bribery and other crimes. They had hidden cameras and recorders planted thru out the City Hall and City Council Chambers environs. What was on those tapes? Did they record any plotting of Davis’ murder–or other crimes? Did officialdom have advance knowledge of the plot to end Davis’ life? Telling is the fact that federal law enforcement has released its files on the slaying of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and many other high profile cases but to date they will not released their files on the murder of James E. Davis–why not–what are they hiding–what is on those tapes? Davis was not liked at all by many powerful people because he had honor and stood with the poor and marginalized people.

James E. Davis is buried in Evergreen Cemetery. A United States Post Office on Empire Boulevard is named in his honor via an Act of Congress. Davis started the Stop the Violence movement in Brooklyn that to day has become multi-million dollar industry yet nary a single anti-violence group in New York City will exhibit the decency to recognize or honor Davis as the founder of this movement or otherwise acknowledge Davis’ role in starting this movement. There is blood on many hands. Reopen the probe of Davis’ murder.

Joe Gonzalez is a Community Activist who lives and works in Brooklyn New York.