Akai Gurley: Activists Welcome Peter Laing's Indictment But Caution Premature Celebration

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Young marchers have been demanding for justice in several police-killing-of-unarmed Black men cases

Several elected officials and activists welcomed today's report that Peter Liang the NYPD officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black man in a stairway of Brooklyn's Pink Houses has been indicted by a Brooklyn Grand Jury.

Liang, 27 killed Akai Gurley with a single shot to the chest on November 20 while reportedly conducting a "vertical" patrol with an NYPD partner. He now reportedly faces second degree manslaughter trial and a conviction could land him 15 years behind bars.

Liang will be arraigned at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

This is one of the rare instances that a police officer of the NYPD has even been indicted; in contrast with the non-indictment of officer Daniel Pantaleo who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold on July 17 last year. Even though the Garner killing was video-taped a grand jury on Staten Island did not indict the officer.

Still, as State Assemblyman Charles Barron pointed out, an indictment is only the beginning of a long process.

"The indictment of New York City Police Officer Peter Liang is a step in the right direction," Barron said. "However, we have received indictments in the Sean Bell case and in the Amadou Diallo case and the officers were exonerated."

His reference was to the shooting-to-death of Sean Bell on the morning of the day he was to get married, after he had left a bachelor party, by five NYPD officers who fired 50 shots at Bell and two friends while they were inside a car getting ready to leave. Amadou Diallo was killed in a hail of 41 bullets --19 hit him-- as he stood on the porch of his home in the Bronx on February 5, 1999.

"We must remain vigilant, organize and mobilize until we receive a conviction and justice for Akai Gurley, because an indictment is not a conviction. The demonstration in this city has put pressure on elected officials to do the right thing and we must keep the pressure on," Barron added.

The National Action Network's (NAN) Kirsten John Foy, the northeast regional director, in a statement said:  “National Action Network is pleased by the announcement that NYPD officer Peter Liang will be charged with the death of Akai Gurley. NAN has supported Kimberly Ballinger and the child of Akai Gurley since the unarmed young black man was killed and we are pleased that the process will now allow for a fair and impartial hearing. Unlike the case in Staten Island, this case shows the difference in a prosecutor who will respect the grand jury’s role to decide probable cause, rather than attempt to influence it. We will monitor this to make sure there is a fair process."

"Less than two months ago Kimberly and Mr. Gurley’s 2-year-old daughter joined us with Rev. Sharpton, the parents of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others at our national march that drew tens of thousands in Washington, D.C. Just last month we marched at the Pink Houses on King Day protesting this case and we intend to remain supportive of a just conclusion,” she added.

New York City Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), in a statement said: "First and foremost, my continued prayers for comfort and healing go out to Akai Gurley's family and friends, including those who witnessed this tragedy unfold."

"I applaud Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson and the grand jury for indicting Officer Liang, but feel conflicted that such praise should be made since it was clear that an unarmed, innocent life was lost," Williams continued. "In a case like this, an indictment should be the norm, not the exception. No matter what ones profession may be, all Americans must be held accountable for killing an innocent person, even if the person who is held accountable is an officer of the law-- even if it was unintentional."

Williams also said, "I still, however, question why the rookie officer was assigned to patrol the 'high crime' area with another rookie officer.  A 'dimly lit' staircase leading to an 'accident' exemplifies all that is wrong with our public safety system: a systemic problem within the department's culture, poor police-community relations in Black and Brown neighborhoods and an overly zealous ethos for excessive force. These are things we must continue to question and discuss as we move forward. We must also remember that this is simply an indictment and does not guarantee that accountability will prevail. It is my hope that our Administration immediately implements real and clear policy changes to improve how NYPD operates on the ground."

Williams is Deputy Leader and co-chair of the City Council's Task Force to Combat Gun Violence.

New York City mayor Bill De Blasio issued a short statement, saying: “It has been reported that a Brooklyn grand jury has acted in this case. No matter the specific charges, this case is an unspeakable tragedy for the Gurley family. We urge everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds.”



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