Brooklyn pols call for ‘calm’ following NYPD shooting of unarmed man
Brooklyn was the home of press conferences and protests over the weekend as elected officials and community members reacted to the police shooting of an unarmed man in a Brooklyn housing project late last week.
“We want justice to be done as it relates to the death of Mr. [Akai] Gurley,” said U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) on Sunday.
Jeffries was joined by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn), New York Public Advocate Letitia James and Juan Rodriguez, president of the 75th Precinct community council, at a press conference this past weekend outside the office of Brooklyn’s district attorney.
The pols met with Brooklyn D.A. Kenneth Thompson prior to the press conference to discuss the investigation of rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang shooting Akai Gurley — however, Thompson was not in attendance.
Gurley was shot and killed last Friday in a darkened stairwell of an East New York public housing complex after the rookie cop on patrol fired his weapon, likely accidentally, officials said.
According to current public reports, Liang and another rookie officer were conducting a vertical patrol of the Louis Pink Houses. City police often conduct “vertical patrols” inside public housing by going from roofs down staircases that sometimes are havens for crime. Police Commissioner William Bratton has said the patrols are needed, and the development where Gurley was shot had recently seen a shooting, robberies and assaults.
Gurley, 28, had spent the evening at the Louis Pink Houses in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood when he entered the dark hallway about 11 p.m. Thursday on the seventh floor. Meanwhile, the two officers, who had come from the roof down the stairwells on patrol, were on the eighth floor. William Bratton said officer Liang had his gun and flashlight out and apparently accidentally fired one shot. The round struck Gurley in the chest, and he died later at a hospital.
“[Gurley’s] death appears to me to be unprovoked, unnecessary and unjust,” Jeffries said.
The city’s top police officer agrees.
“What happened last night was a very unfortunate tragedy,” Commissioner Bratton said. “The deceased is totally innocent. He just happened to be in the hallway. He was not engaged in any criminal activity.”
“As we continue to gather the facts, the fatal shooting of this unarmed man is deeply troubling and warrants an immediate, fair and thorough investigation,” Thompson said in a statement last week.
The meeting between Thompson and other Brooklyn pols lasted for 30 minutes.
“It was a full, frank and honest discussion about the concerns that the community has as it relates to the death of Mr. Gurley,” Jeffries said.
While the D.A.’s Office continues its investigation, some Brooklyn residents view the Gurley killing as another attack on communities of color by the NYPD and are calling for immediate action.
New York Assemblymember-elect Charles Barron organized a protest march of about 200 people on Saturday evening from the shooting scene to the police department office that patrols housing developments.
In a statement from the group ANSWER, as reported by The Associated Press, march organizers said there was nothing accidental about Gurley’s shooting.
“This is the deadly consequence of the increasing militarization of the police, from New York City to Ferguson — and beyond,” the statement said.
Gurley’s death comes at a sensitive time with a grand jury weighing whether to bring criminal charges against another officer in the chokehold death of a man on Staten Island, and the nation bracing for a potential announcement soon on whether an indictment will be handed up in the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.
In response, James called for calm while not discounting the pain of the community and Gurley family.
“[T]his is not Ferguson, Missouri. This is New York City,” the public advocate said with force. “This is a major tragedy in our city, but District Attorney Thompson is charged with the responsibility of judging cases based on the law and the facts. And we have complete confidence in D.A. Thompson,” James said.
“So I’m asking that at this point in time … all Brooklynites remain calm and trust that there are elected officials who are ensuring that the law is followed,” James concluded. “We are going to continue to monitor the event.”
-The Associated Press contributing.
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