By Lindsay Armstrong for DNA Info
INWOOD — Friends and family gathered last week at the site of a new street memorial created to honor an Inwood man shot and killed by police in 2011.
John Collado would have celebrated his 47th birthday on March 25. But instead of a party, Collado’s family and friends held a vigil outside his former home on Post Avenue, steps from where he was shot three-and-a-half years ago by an undercover police officer during a drug bust.
While Collado’s loved ones watched, two people from Artists for Justice NYC painted a mural on the sidewalk featuring Collado’s face next to an unbalanced Scales of Justice symbol.
Collado was shot by an undercover detective on September 6, 2011, after police said he interfered with a drug bust near his home on Post Avenue. He died early the next morning.
The detective shot Collado in self-defense after Collado placed him in a chokehold, the NYPD said.
His family says that on the night of the shooting, Collado was trying to break up what he believed to be a fight between his neighbor and another man. The detective was working alone and was not wearing a uniform at the time of the incident, according to the NYPD.
Collado’s family maintains that he never placed the officer in a chokehold, a statement they claim is backed up by video evidence from the scene.
Amarilis Collado, John’s widow, wanted the mural to honor John’s memory and to remind people of an important message.
“When you read the phrase “equality equals freedom” and you see John’s face, I want people to remember that human rights should be for everyone — not just for some,” she said in Spanish through a translator this week. “His rights were violated.”
A grand jury later declined to indict the officer who shot Collado, a decision that the family said has exacerbated their pain.
“It’s been terrible,” said Ulysa Nuñez, Collado’s ex-wife with whom he had two children. “Almost four years, but it’s still like, there’s no justice done about this wrongdoing. You feel like you can’t move on.”
Amarilis Collado filed a wrongful death suit against the city in December 2011, but is still awaiting a decision in the case, she and her lawyer said.
“My husband was a very noble person,” she said. “When he intervened in that fight, he was being a good Samaritan.”
The city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Joshua Lopez, Collado’s nephew, said the memorial evokes a lot of emotion.
“Painting it on the sidewalk like that, it’s like standing over it and looking down like you would over a body or a tombstone,” he said. “It just reminds me of what my uncle went through.”
Amarilis Collado came up with the idea for the mural after seeing a similar piece byRight of Way, a group that paints street memorials for pedestrians and cyclists who are killed by cars. She contacted Keegan Stephan of Right of Way, who later brought in Alex Seel and Ricardo Cabret from Artists for Justice NYC to work on the project.
“On the one side it’s like we want that memorial, we want the memory and not to forget about this,” Seel explained. “But also, we want to get the word out, too, to use this piece to have a broader conversation.”
Stephan noted that several families who had lost loved ones to police violence also attended the vigil and approached him about the possibility of creating more murals.
“I think it would be really powerful to put these all over the city for victims of police violence,” he said.
Nuñez said the family is committed to doing whatever it can to help people remember Collado and to clear his name.
“We haven’t given up hope on having some kind of justice,” she said. “This is why we do these things. We’re just hanging onto that little bit of hope we might have.”