NEW YORK (PIX11) — The father of a Brooklyn man fatally shot by police in 2018 is accusing New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin of “criminalizing and dehumanizing” his late son by including his image in a campaign ad decrying violent crime.
Eric Vassell, father of the late Saheed Vassell, issued a statement on Tuesday in which he likened the inclusion of his son’s image in the ad to “trampling on Saheed’s grave.” The elder Vassell has demanded that Zeldin, who currently represents part of Long Island’s Suffolk County in the House of Representatives, take down the ad and issue an apology.
A message seeking comment from Zeldin’s campaign was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
The 30-second ad, which was posted to Zeldin’s Twitter account on Sunday, includes several clips depicting what a voiceover calls “actual violent crimes caught on camera in Kathy Hochul’s New York,” referring to the incumbent Democratic governor and Zeldin’s challenger in November. Among the clips is a shot of Saheed Vassell pointing a pipe at a pedestrian’s head in April 2018 — more than three years before Hochul became governor — on a Crown Heights street.
Police fatally shot Vassell on April 4, 2018 after he repeatedly pointed the pipe at people as one might aim a gun, alarming pedestrians who believed he might actually be carrying a firearm. Relatives and community members at the time described Vassell, who was 34, as mentally ill but largely harmless.
In the Tuesday statement, Eric Vassell said that the ad has forced him to relive the trauma of his son’s death, which he described as a murder at the hands of police.
“Seeing my son, Saheed Vassell’s, image in that terrible ad breaks my heart,” he said in part. “It is painful and enraging that Mr. Zeldin is playing politics with my son’s image — criminalizing and dehumanizing Saheed, who was murdered by the NYPD.”
The elder Vassell described his late son as “a victim of the NYPD and New York City’s failed healthcare system,” as opposed to “a violent criminal, the way Mr. Zeldin’s misleading ad tries to make him out to be.”
He called for the ad’s removal and an apology from Zeldin.
“Mr. Zeldin’s use of Saheed’s image in his ad is like trampling on Saheed’s grave and forces my family to relive the NYPD’s unjustifiable murder of my son,” he said. “Mr. Zeldin must immediately take the ad down and issue a public apology to my family and our community, who loved Saheed.”
Throughout the campaign, Zeldin has sought to characterize Hochul as soft on crime, while presenting himself as the law and order candidate on the ballot in November. As of a PIX11 News/Emerson College Polling/The Hill poll released earlier this month, Hochul held a 15-point lead over Zeldin, with 9% of voters undecided and 6% preferring a third-party candidate.