Haitian American elected officials are demanding an independent investigation into the death of 12-year-old Haitian American Romy Vilsaint, who died after what they described as an ethnic bullying incident and attack at PS 361, East Flatbush Early Childhood School, in Brooklyn.
On Friday, Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and Council Member Farah N. Louis held a press conference, at 1957 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, with the Vilsaint family on the matter.
Other Haitian American leaders demanding the probe include Assembly Member Michaelle Solages, Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Chair; Assembly Members Kimberly Jean-Pierre and Mathylde Frontus, and District Leader Josue Pierre.
“Romy Vilsaint should be with us today,” said Bichotte Hermelyn, who is also chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. “It is unacceptable for any child to be afraid to go to school because of bullying, harassment, and violence. Many immigrants face ethnic bullying.
“Yesterday, I extended my deepest condolences to the Vilsaint family,” added the representative for the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn. “Although we cannot bring Romy back, we can demand accountability and justice for him. All of Brooklyn must demand justice for Romy.”
Louis, vice co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, in the City Council, said: “It hurts to see another family lose their child because of the pervasive bullying in our public schools.
“Romy’s death was a preventable tragedy compounded by a lack of transparency, communication and accountability,” said Louis, representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn. “No child should ever feel ashamed or belittled for any reason. It is inexcusable that after entrusting their child in the care of the New York City Department of Education, the Vilsaint family must now plan for his burial rather than celebrate his graduation.”
Solages — who represents Assembly District 22 in Nassau County, L.Is., including the communities of Valley Stream, North Valley Stream, Elmont, South Valley Stream, South Floral Park, Floral Park, the Village of Bellerose, Bellerose Terrace, North Woodmere, Stewart Manor and sections of Franklin Square — said “it is disheartening to see a school interaction result in the loss of a student’s life.
“I extend my deepest condolence to the Vislaint family,” she said. “Bullying is an epidemic and we need to be firm in denouncing it. I stand in solidarity with the family, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, and the Brooklyn community in their pursuant of answers.”
Jean-Pierre, the Assembly Member for the 11th District, which includes portions of the town of Babylon in Suffolk County in L.Is., said “words cannot adequately express how heartbroken I am by the devastating loss of Romy Vilsaint, a young Haitian-American boy who was just beginning to make his mark in life.
“As a mother of two young children, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and heartbreak that accompanies the loss of a child at such a young age amidst such grotesque circumstances,” she said. “Our schools are supposed to be sanctuaries for our children, where they go to learn, grow, and better themselves for a promising future; and the fact that Romy is no longer with us because of injuries he sustained while simply attending school makes his loss that much more devastating.”
Frontus, a member of the New York State Assembly, representing the 46th District since 2018, said: “It is absolutely devastating to hear of what happened to Romy Vilsaint.
“I am saddened by his loss but also angry because his death was completely preventable,” said Frontus whose district comprises portions of southern Brooklyn, including Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.
“It is hard to fully comprehend how children can bully each other to death during school hours,” she added. “We must do better, and we must protect our children.”
Frontus said 40 years ago, her family experienced a similar tragedy when her uncle moved to Brooklyn from Haiti “and experienced bullying at the hands of fellow students.”
She said her uncle was also hit in the head and died at 13.
“Romy’s death is a grim reminder that we have been seeing the same patterns in our school for several decades, and the cycle must be broken,” Frontus said. “The school must be held accountable and must answer questions regarding what exactly happened to Romy, and how to make sure it never happens again.”
Haitian-born Josue Pierre, who is vying for the crowded 40th Council District seat in Brooklyn, currently held by his compatriot, the term-limited Dr. Mathieu Eugene, said, “bullying has become so common in our schools that rather than watching out for the signs and symptoms that our kids are showing us, we look past them until it gets out of hand.
“What happened to Romy Vilsaint was violent and tragic, but it could have been prevented,” he said. “Romy should still be here with his family today.
“We need more trained mental health professionals in our schools engaging our young people and identifying issues early on to prevent this from happening to any child,” Pierre added. “My heart goes out to the Vilsaint family, and they will be in our prayers as they cope with this shocking loss.
“But, as elected leaders, we now have a duty to ensure that such acts of violence and bullying does not continue to happen in our schools,” he continued.