Remembering Clifford Glover, the youngest person killed by NYC police
Fifty years ago on April 28, just as dawn began to peek through springtime cloud cover in South Jamaica, a 10-year-old Black boy named Clifford Glover was walking with his stepfather to work when two “plainclothes” police officers approached in an unmarked car.
Glover, a fourth-grader who attended a nearby school, was shot in the back by Officer Thomas Shea while running away, making him the youngest known person ever killed by New York City police. Shea claimed that the boy and his stepfather fit the descriptions of taxicab robbers. Glover, a prepubescent child, stood 4’11” and weighed 90 pounds.
The people of Jamaica, Queens — and beyond — demanded justice by any means. An empty police van was firebombed, and police officers extinguishing the flames were pelted with bricks and bottles. All cops in South Jamaica were ordered to refrain from responding to calls for assistance unless accompanied by a backup unit. The fear of retaliation was clear and present.
Shea became the first New York City police officer in nearly 50 years to be charged with committing murder while on duty. Nevertheless, various levels of Black political leadership and activist defense groups voiced their frustrations with a system they deemed unfit to deliver justice.
Shea’s partner, Walter Scott, on duty with him at the time of the fatal police shooting, was recorded on a radio transmission saying, “Die, you little bastard,” but later denied it was his voice on the recording. Regardless of the evidence presented in court, the jury of 11 white men and one Black woman found Shea not guilty. Several jurors joined Shea and his lawyers at a Queens Boulevard restaurant afterward to celebrate.
Though the life and tragic death of Clifford Glover have largely faded from collective memory, understanding the aftermath of this historic abdication of justice allow us to contextualize the resultant expansion of police power and collective cries for alternative approaches to public safety.
The New York City police that have since expanded enormously since that fateful day 50 years ago, have clashed time and time again with the community patrolled by that same 103rd Precinct, typifying the continued aggression of armed state agents against communities of color and the uprising of millions demanding an end to police brutality as the spear’s tip of racialized economic inequality and political suppression.
Arguably, there is no more important consequence of the police killing of Clifford Glover than the impact it had on New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who frequently refers to the event as inspiring him to pursue a career in law enforcement, one that has born much success for Adams.
Adams and his administration are strong supporters of the Crisis Management System and Cure Violence model, which believe in placing the power to enact public safety back in the hands of communities most affected, led by individuals with the lived experience to understand how to root out structural issues that lead to violence and further the cycles of incarceration and poverty.
The anniversary of Clifford Glover’s death 50 years ago, and the clashes between community and police that followed, make this an appropriate time to finally commemorate Glover's memory, both with official recognition from the city of his life and the injustice of his demise, and with structural reform to ensure that no more children suffer the same fate.
This guest essay reflects the views of Debanjan Roychoudhury a Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Associate for the Prison Education Program in the Faculty of Arts and Science at New York University.