‘Our hearts are broken’: Family and friends of nail salon police shooting victim mourn

After Kwesi Ashun was killed in Brownsville during a violent struggle with police, his family is demanding a transparent investigation.

October 29, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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It got quiet after the first shots were fired inside the Goldmine Nails spa in Brownsville on Friday. And then there was more gunfire.

A Brownsville man named Matt, who declined to give his last name, was drinking outside the Leonardo Deli Grocery next door when the confrontation between police and Kwesi Ashun began. The chaos spilled from the sidewalk into the nail salon. One officer was “tussling” with Ashun. Then another officer used a Taser to shock Ashun. “All of a sudden you heard shots,” Matt said, adding that he hid behind the police van parked outside the store. “Then you didn’t hear no shots, and then you heard four or five more.”

“Our hearts are broken beyond what anyone can imagine,”  said Alma Ashun, Ashun’s sister, through tears at a Monday vigil for her brother. Brownsville residents lit candles and called for police to be transparent in their investigation of the incident.

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“My brother Kwesi is — and I’m saying ‘is’ because I’m not ready to talk about him in the past tense just yet — one of the most beautiful energies that you could ever encounter,” she said.

Kwesi Ashun’s sister, Alma Ashun, holds her face as she speaks at a vigil for her brother on Mother Gaston Boulevard. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

Ashun was selling t-shirts outside the salon — which he did often — Friday evening just before 6 p.m. Another man, Dewayne Hawkes, a family friend of Ashun’s, walked into the salon trying to use the bathroom, police said. Hawkes ended up urinating on the floor of the salon, though it’s unclear if salon workers denied him access to the bathroom. Workers at the salon flagged down two cops parked on the street.

As the officers were trying to arrest Hawkes for a separate open warrant, Ashun intervened and got into a physical fight with the officers. Ashun allegedly struck officer Lesly LaFontant with a metal chair, which resulted in LaFontant’s hospitalization over the weekend in a medically-induced coma. LaFontant left Brookdale Hospital in a wheelchair Monday.

“I saw [Ashun] and police going at it. The police is beating him. The other police ran outside, shot the Taser outside like he was scared to death,” said Matt.

Next door to the salon, two posters that said “R.I.P. Kwesi” were taped up to a metal grate on Monday. People lit candles underneath them and signed their names.

Ashun was bipolar, his family said, and was not getting the mental health services he needed.

“The people in his life that love him were not afraid of him because he was peaceful. We were, however, always worried for him — especially as a black man living with mental illness in this country,” Alma Ashun said.

“Many of us who are from Brownsville know Kwesi was making every effort to move his life in a positive direction despite not receiving mental health services that he needed,” said Camara Jackson, who runs Elite Learners Inc., an anti-gun violence and mentorship organization in Brownsville.

Jackson sent her best wishes to the officer and his family, but also demanded that police publicly release any video from inside the salon.

“We encourage you all to look at all sides, as we do not have access to the investigation that is being conducted,” Alma Ashun said to crowd gathered.

Alma Ashun was not the only family member of a Brownsville gun violence victim present at Monday’s vigil. Also there were the mother and aunt of Jason Pagan, who was shot and killed in July at Old Timers Day in Brownsville.

“To lose a family member in any violent way is painful, and so we know the pain,” said Judy Perez, Pagan’s aunt. “We just hope that this neighborhood can reel back from it and that we find peace.”

The Brooklyn Eagle is creating a new framework for reporting on gun violence that bring solutions and understanding, and does away with reporting practices that are harmful to communities. We need your help.

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