Elected officials want DA Kenneth Thompson to bring charges against Officer Liang
Three days after an unarmed 28-year-old African-American man was killed by an officer of the New York Police Department (NYPD), his death has been ruled as a homicide by the New York Medical Examiner and some elected officials are calling for the officer’s arrest.
On November 20 around 11:15 p.m., according to published reports, Akai Gurley and Melissa Butler, a female friend entered the seventh floor stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Housing Development in East New York. Then without warning or questioning, Officer Peter Liang, who was in the stairwell one floor above, shot and killed Gurley with a single bullet to the chest.
It was reported that the homicide ruling has no bearing on “intent or culpability.”
Assembly-Elect Charles Barron, who wants Liang arrested, told the AP that Liang’s use of a police weapon “was reckless endangerment, it was criminally negligent homicide.”
A day after the killing, Mr. Barron and Councilwoman Inez Barron held a press conference in front of the 75th precinct in Brooklyn to denounce what they called the senseless actions of the NYPD.
“First of all, Black life is precious and we cannot continue to allow law enforcement to take Black life with impunity,” Mr. Barron said. “I am sick and tired of the people that we pay to protect us, wind up killing us in cold blood. It’s not an accident. It’s a tragedy. It’s a crime.”
He also had some tough criticism for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton whose appointment he protested. “If the commissioner feels that it’s such a dangerous [area]…then don’t give us any inexperienced, frightened rookies that have only been on the force for 18 months,” he said.
Akai Gurley has a two-year-old daughter with his domestic partner, Kimberly Michelle Ballinger.
Officer Liang, 26, and his partner were on vertical patrol, which is an inspection of the stairwell. It is documented that the particular stairwell where Gurley was killed had no lighting. Liang reportedly had his flashlight but no explanation is given as to why he drew his gun on Gurley who posed no threat.
Immediately, Police Commissioner Bratton called Liang’s killing an accident. “Based on the radio transmissions and some of the statements we’ve reviewed at this point in the investigation, we’re indicating that it appears to be an accidental discharge,” he said.
“The deceased based on our investigation is a total innocent… and was not engaged in any criminal activity of any type,” Bratton said during a separate press conference on Friday.
As an investigation continues, Officer Liang was stripped of his gun and his badge. Although, Butler was present at the press conference, she did not speak. However, she has spoken to the NYPD and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson released a statement which said, “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.”
Attorney Roger Wareham, on behalf of the Butler and the Gurley family, also spoke during Barron’s press conference. “This is the same precinct in July [that] applied a chokehold to an eight- month pregnant woman. That and this reflect a culture that says ‘Black life is worthless,'” Wareham said. “That there is an unwritten crime on the books of New York City and across the country which says that breathing while black is an offense and in many cases breathing while Black becomes a capital offense.”
Mr. Barron went on to say that the details in this case are eerily similar to the Timothy Stansbury Jr. Incident in 2004. Stansbury, then 19 years old was also unarmed and fatally shot by a NYPD officer as he emerged from a door that opened to the rooftop of the Louis Armstrong Houses in Brooklyn.
Councilwoman Inez Barron brought up the fact that just this year on April 28 she questioned a ranking official of the NYPD about their vertical patrol policies in reference to Stansbury.
Ms. Barron and other members of the City Council questioned Carlos Gomez, Chief of New York Police Department Housing Bureau, at a meeting titled “Oversight: The NYPD’s Operation Crew Cut and Crime Reduction Strategies for NYCHA ,” a reference to the New York City Housing Authority.
“What is their training to prevent those kinds of incidents from recurring,” Ms. Barron asked Chief Gomez, in reference to the Stansbury killing 10 years ago by the NYPD officer.
Chief Gomez replied in part: “Training resulted, emanated from that incident and basically part of the training included don’t un-holster the… weapon … keep the finger away from the trigger. But all of our officers receive comprehensive training in vertical patrols…how to conduct it… you know what questions to ask individuals that you encounter on, on your way down to see if they’re legitimately there.”
Clearly, Officer Liang’s weapon was unholstered and what’s more, as Council Member Jumaane Williams noted in a statement, the gun’s safety must have been released.
“We’re saying that NYCHA has responsibility and the NYPD has contradictory statements out here,” Councilmember Barron said. “The statement on the record at City [Council] from Chief Gomez is that officers are trained to not un-holster their weapon.”
Meanwhile Charles Barron demands that the Brooklyn DA to bring charges against Officer Liang.
“Don’t blame me, the social forecaster when I say that unless we start getting justice, unless they stop killing us with impunity, there’s going to be an explosion in New York City and across this country,” he said. “Michael Vick got time for killing dogs but police can’t any time for killing human beings. We had enough!”