After being chased through the streets of Staten Island by a group of mostly white young men who shouted racial slurs, 16-year-old black teenager Dayshen McKenzie collapsed and died last week.
The New York Daily News reports that the fatal incident began outside of a hamburger restaurant last Friday. McKenzie and his friends were outside the restaurant when they came across a group of white teenagers. According to one of McKenzie’s friends, Harry Smith, the two groups got into an argument. The fight ended when the white teenagers left. But things turned violent when that group drove back and started chasing McKenzie and his friends.
“They were calling us n—-rs,” Smith said of the chase. “I just heard a lot of racial slurs. They were mixed — some white, some of them were Hispanic. But nobody was black.” At least one of the assailants had a gun.
The black teenagers say they were eventually cornered, but caught a lucky break when police officers were heard nearby. The attackers ran away, but McKenzie showed signs of distress. “It’s mad hot,” he said, before falling to the ground. McKenzie, who’d forgotten his inhaler at home, was unable to breathe.
Ex-NYPD officer Diana Fatigati witnessed the chase and heard the white teenagers yelling racial slurs. When she arrived to stop the attack, McKenzie was down. She tried to save him, but the 16-year-old died at the scene. While the cause of his death hasn’t been confirmed, many believe he died from an asthma attack.
“To me, it’s murder,” Fatigati said. “They were chasing him — that’s a crime. You’re hunting them because they’re black … You’re calling them a n—-r.” Nobody has been arrested yet. Tisha Richardson, McKenzie’s mother, told the Daily News she wants someone to take responsibility for what happened to her son. “The sadness turns to anger,” she said. “I want justice for him. Somebody should be held accountable.”
After an initial round of interviews, hate crime investigators will be interviewing witnesses again. Police told the Daily News that racist language was not mentioned when they conducted the first round of questioning. Despite Fatigati and Smith’s claims, police officers wrote there was “no indication of a bias element.” Smith believes the officers were more interested in the gun found at the scene.
As the Daily News points out, McKenzie’s death brings back memories of another similar instance in 1986. That year, Michael Griffith, a 23-year-old black male was chased by a white gang onto a busy highway. Griffith was hit and killed by a car.
But the teenager’s death also comes at a time when racial tension in the U.S. has reached fever pitch. As activists, including Black Lives Matter organizers and college students across the country, fight against police brutality and other forms of institutionalized racism, racially-motivated crimes are sweeping the country. Hate groups are growing, and there’s been a surge of violence against Muslims in particular.
Richardson described her son as an aspiring rapper, a comedian and also played basketball. “A kid with many talents,” she said. “Anything he wanted to do, he would do.”