In recent years, police shootings of young black men have stirred fierce debate about the nature of America’s street-level law enforcement. But in New York, one activist has turned his attention to an unlikely target: the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, where politics and criminal justice meet.
For more than two decades, Nicholas Heyward, Sr., has pushed for justice for his 13-year-old son, Nicholas, Jr., who was killed by a city cop in 1994. Back then, there was no Black Lives Matter, no national conversation about police shootings of young black men. There was little public outcry when prosecutors declined to press charges against NYPD Housing Officer Brian George.
But Heyward refused to let his son’s death be forgotten. He became an outspoken activist, lobbying local politicians to revive his son’s case. In 2016, his efforts paid off, when Brooklyn’s new district attorney agreed to reopen the investigation. A year later, the case was closed, again with no charges against the officer.

Several months later, Heyward began what will likely be the final leg of his journey, by lodging a formal complaint with the city against the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.  He charges the office is plagued with endemic corruption that spans decades and multiple administrations. Heyward says the biggest problem isn’t the officer who shot his son – it’s the legal system.