Ismaaiyl Abullah Brinsley’s troubles may have begun when he dropped out of school in the 10th grade.
From that moment, until he apparently gunned down two New York City Police officers as they sat in their patrol car on Saturday, he spent his time in and out of the criminal justice system.
His record started just before his 18th birthday in 2004 with a simple battery charge in Atlanta. From there he seemed to be arrested almost every subsequent year with charges ranging from disorderly conduct to carrying a concealed weapon. In 2007, he was charged with criminal trespassing in DeKalb County. By 2008, the year he turned 22, he had been convicted of felony shoplifting, a conviction that should have barred him from carrying a firearm. But by the summer of 2011 he got a stolen Phoenix Arms .25 caliber, semi automatic handgun and shot a woman’s gold, 2007 Chevrolet Malibu in Cobb County. He resisted when police tried to arrest him.
He plead guilty in Cobb County Superior Court to multiple charges stemming from that incident including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His sentence was seven years in prison, but the sentence was suspended on the condition that he complete boot camp, undergo anger and violence management training and stay away from guns. Had he done so, he might never have found his way to Brooklyn where, New York City Police say he “assassinated” Rafael Ramos, 40 and Wenjian Liu, 32.
The deadly ambush comes at an especially critical time, when the country is still reeling from the impact of grand jury verdicts where jurors refused to indict police involved in the deaths of two unarmed black men. Now a black man from the Atlanta area has executed two armed police officers in an attack police say he apparently saw as some warped revenge killing.
According the narrative stitched together from Cobb County court documents, Brinsley, 28, avoided prison and agreed to boot camp and anger management and began his probation in August 2011. Just five months later, he stopped seeing his probation officer. In February 2013 his probation officer officially asked the court to revoke Brinsley’s probation. And by this June, Cobb County courts could not find him. The warrant for is arrest on probation violation was still open on Saturday.
This was part of the short life of Brinsley, a man whose last known address was in Union City, according to court documents. The other portion of his life was a mash-up of mug shots, selfies, and a series of anti-police posts on social media. Those posts telegraphed his intent to exact what Brinsley saw as some twisted response to the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police. Both Brown in Missouri and Garner in New York City, were unarmed black men whose, deaths were caught, in part or in in whole, on video. Those videos and the subsequent decisions by two grand juries not to indict the officers involved apparently fueled Brinsley’s rage.
According to an Associated Press report, before the shooting, Brinsley made this threat via an Instagram account: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs.” The post included hashtags associated with the Garner and Brown cases.
» INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: Track Brinsley's case in Cobb court
» ORIGINAL DOCUMENT: Cobb court transcript: State v. Brinsley (2011)
» ORIGINAL DOCUMENT: Cobb court order: Brinsley parole revocation (2013)
He began his rampage in Maryland on Saturday where, the Washington Post reported, Brinsley shot a woman described as his girlfriend in the stomach before taking her phone and traveling to Brooklyn. The woman survived the attack.
It appears that Brinsley was not targeting Ramos and Liu, because he knew them. Police say he shot the pair for what, in Brinsley’s mind, they symbolized. He shot the officers through the passenger window of the car aiming for their heads.
After the shooting, police said Brinsley ran to a nearby subway station where he shot himself and died.
The police murders come as the nation is still sorting through the emotional aftermath of the Garner and Brown verdicts. This fall has been marked by protests from coast to coast, with marchers demanding a change in police relationships and tactics when dealing with communities of color, particularly with young men of color. “Hand up, don’t shoot,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “No Justice, No Peace,” have been rallying cries for protesters. On Saturday, as Brinsley was carrying through his attack, marchers in Atlanta were staging a “die-in” near Lenox Mall, in support of recent unarmed victims of police killings. But as about 70 Atlanta marchers were lying in street, Liu and Ramos were dead in their patrol car.
Ken Allen, an Atlanta police detective and president of the Atlanta chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers said that even the peaceful protests in memory of Brown and Garner, could influence people who have grudges against the police.
“It’s charged,” Allen said. “When you have communities accusing police of brutality, which I don’t believe, it can lead people who may have extreme views to act.”
Across Atlanta on Sunday, people in Atlanta decried the shooting. Police said the shooting has put them on high alert.
“Everyone is not only aware of what has happened in NewYork …but they try to be as careful as possible when handling calls for service from the public,” Sgt. Dana Pierce Cobb County Police Department.
If there was one message that many agreed upon in the wake of Brinsley’s attack, it was that violence is not an answer to an issue that has become a tinder box for the nation. It was a sentiment expressed just hours before another protest march took place Sunday in front of Lenox Mall.
“We’re totally against violence,” said Mary-Pat Hector, national youth director for the National Action Network which was one of the sponsors of the march. “We do not condone violence whatsoever, whether it’s a cop shooting an unarmed black man or a black man shooting a cop. It’s sad and it takes away from the message of peaceful protest.”