Questions and outcry continue as the city grapples with its latest police shooting of yet another unarmed Black man.
Late Thursday evening, in a darkened stairwell of the Pink Houses public housing complex in East New York, Brooklyn, Akai Gurley, 28, was struck in the chest with a bullet from a rookie police officer Peter Liang’s firearm. Gurley later died at Brookdale Hospital.
On Sunday, the city medical examiner ruled Gurley’s death a homicide. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson must decide whether or not to press charges against Liang. Thompson is scheduled to meet with Gurley’s family on Monday.
At the time of the shooting, Gurley was leaving the apartment of his girlfriend and mother of his 2-year-old daughter, Melissa Butler, after having his hair braided. As they entered the poorly lit stairwell, a shot rang out and Gurley careered down several flights of stairs until realizing he was hit, after which he collapsed.
“They didn’t give any explanation. They didn’t identify themselves,” said Butler, speaking to the press. “No nothing. They just pulled a gun and shot him in the chest.”
As Gurley laid in the stairwell, Butler is said to have seen him lay in a puddle of his own blood before running to get help from neighbors.
“They need to pay for his funeral. They killed an innocent man,”Butler said.
Since the shooting, NYPD officials have attempted to explain away the fatal incident as an accident. According to reports, Officer Liang was attempting to open a stairwell door while holding a gun when the it fired accidentally and shot Gurley in his chest.
Liang has since handed over his badge and gun.
Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton, who visited Gurley’s surviving family along with First Lady Charlaine McCray, have decried the ordeal as an “unfortunate tragedy.”
In a press conference, Bratton said “Let me reinforce – at this point, the deceased is, based on our preliminary investigation, totally innocent, he just happened to be in that hallway as the officers were entering the adjacent hallway one landing up; was not engaged in any criminal activity of any type.”
When asked why the officer had his weapon drawn despite a there being no real or present danger, Bratton cited safety reasons, “We leave that decision as to when to take a firearm out at the discretion of the officer based on what they encounter or believe they may encounter.”
Since the shooting, community member have voiced their outrage. At rally held at Pink Houses Saturday night, demonstrators demanded for the firings of both Bratton and Liang.
State Assembly Member-elect Charles Barron has condemned the shooting.
“This madness must stop,” he said. “There is nothing that they can come up with to justify the killing of an unarmed person by two fully armed police officers. This abusive use of deadly force is the cause of unrest across the nation. People are fed up with police taking our lives with impunity.”
Gurley’s sister and domestic partner appeared with the Rev. Al Sharpton at the National Action Network’s headquarters in Harlem on Saturday. Sharpton is calling for a complete investigation into the shooting.
On Sunday, several elected officials, including Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Public Advocate Letitia James, held a press conference ensuring that Thompson will do the “right thing” while handling the investigation.