ONEONTA — Dozens of local residents decried the April 6 fatal shooting of a River Street resident by an Oneonta police officer at an “Execution Isn’t Justice” rally at Muller Plaza on Sunday, April 18.
“This killing shouldn’t have happened. A young man shouldn’t have died,” said Debra Cubbedge, a Norwich Town Council member and Democratic candidate for Chenango County sheriff. “We can debate what he deserved, but he didn’t deserve to be shot dead on the ground.”
Tyler Green, 23, died in a helicopter en route to Albany Medical Center hours after he was shot by Sgt. Ralph Pajerski, an 18-year OPD veteran who was responding to a reported domestic dispute between Green and his girlfriend Tuesday, April 6. Footage from a neighbor’s home security system showed Green lying facedown on the ground when Pajerski fired two shots into his back, as Green pulled his 2-year-old son, also on the ground, toward him by the leg.
“When police run in like bulls, with guns pulled, someone is going to get hurt,” Cubbedge continued. “It’s too easy to take a life.”
The same security footage, circulated widely on social media Friday, April 8, showed Pajerski come into the frame from the far side of the house with his gun drawn and pointed at Green, who was reportedly holding a knife and threatening to kill his girlfriend while she held their child. Pajerski shoots Green within 11 seconds of entering the frame.
“I’m here to say that this needs to be a wakeup call to everybody who thinks that because we live in small towns in upstate New York that there isn’t a war building, that there isn’t a march to fascism in all of our tiny little towns with these police departments that can kill you with impunity,” said Maine resident Terri Weathers.
“We need the police to face charges — I’m all for defunding them, personally,” she continued. “Take away their money, take away their guns — we will find what to do next, but the first step is to take away their money and their right to kill us whenever they want.”
“Some say training is the answer. Police get a lot of training — just ask them,” Cubbedge said. “But they’re trained to go to war, as if there are enemies everywhere waiting to ambush them, or to break out in ‘excited delirium.’ But we’re not enemies. We’re the people they’re meant to protect.”
Gilbertsville resident Diana Foster, who sat on one of the subcommittees formed under the auspices of the city of Oneonta’s police reform and reinvention collaborative process in accordance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203, detailed a police training presentation she said was attended last year by OPD officers.
“The Bullet-Proof Mind” is a course by retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the self-professed expert in “killology” and author of the books “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” and “On Combat.”
“Grossman’s teaching style would be better described as a sermon at worst and a motivational speech at best,” Foster said, after watching the nearly 3½ -our course on YouTube. “The ‘facts’ he espouses are a gross distortion of the actual truth, meant to fan the fires of righteous rage. He relies on fear mongering, xenophobia and a strange version of morale boosting to whip his students — largely white males — into a righteous frenzy.”
“At the start of the class, Grossman spends a good 45 minutes talking about a mysterious ‘them,’ who is either Russia, the media or anyone from the Middle East. It’s hard to say,” she continued. “This ‘them’ is out to do one thing: kill all of our children. We are at war and ‘they’ will not rest until they have used fire or maybe a nuclear bomb, if they can get one, to kill all of our children.”
Foster said among her subcommittee’s submitted recommendations was a call to expand training in deescalation tactics, currently clocked at two hours per year by OPD officers, but committee members were told that “Requests to make certain trainings mandatory and increase the number of training hours were immediately dismissed as impossible and overreaching.”
“If only two hours of training are being devoted to deescalation tactics a year, while war prep trainings last longer, happen more frequently and are more heavily attended, how can we be surprised by what we are seeing in countless communities across the country?” Foster said. “The system is working exactly as it was intended, for who it was intended, and that ain’t you or me. Nothing will change as long as the police are being taught to think of themselves as ‘Delta Force,’ ‘righteous warriors,’ our ‘first line of defense’ for the war that is evidently upon us. It’s up to us to demand that change.”
Quoting Grossman’s words from the training session, Foster said: “As a firefighter studies fire, we study violence. The firefighter fights fire, he seldom uses fire. We fight violence, what do we fight it with? Superior violence, righteous violence. Violence is their tool. Violence is their enemy. Violence is the realm we live in, we must study it or it will destroy us.”
Other speakers condemned the length of time it took for officers on scene to request an ambulance to treat Green for his gunshot wounds and his girlfriend for the knife wounds she sustained during the struggle — five minutes after shots were fired, according to the time-stamped security footage and reports from Otsego County 911 Communications.
“Let’s go ahead and try to preserve this person’s life, or at the very least, while he’s dying in front of you, show some damn empathy: take a knee, kneel, comfort this person,” said Taury Seward, a downstate native who moved to the area 17 years ago. “Nobody deserves to die like that, nobody — it’s absolutely unnecessary and uncalled for. Your job is to protect people. Public service: serve and protect, not go out and kill the second you get the opportunity to.”
“Try non-lethal force first. If you have to use lethal force, immediately you should be calling for help. If it was a cop on the ground, you wouldn’t be waiting five minutes to call 911. You would’ve called them immediately,” he continued. “You’re still a human being, you’re still a member of our society, so you should want to protect other members of our society, regardless of what they have done or what they are doing or what’s going on with them. It’s just a simple thing to be a human and to care. If, at any point in time, you think that your life is more valuable, more important than the people you are selflessly supposed to be serving and protecting, then you have to go.”
The incident remains under investigation by the Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James, which has not released any details or updates.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.