Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said that the victim, Akai Gurley, was “a total innocent” and called the shooting “an unfortunate accident.” He was not engaged in any activity other than trying to walk down the stairs, Mr. Bratton said. Mayor Bill de Blasio was also quick to offer his condolences to Mr. Gurley’s family. “This is a tragedy,” he said. The officer who shot Mr. Gurley, Peter Liang, has been on the force for less than 18 months and was still on probationary status. I think it is time to revoke that probationary status; common sense says you don’t shoot unarmed citizens.
Officer Liang, 27, and his partner, who was also new to the force, were patrolling the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York on Thursday night, November 20, as part of an effort to increase the police presence at the housing complex, which had been plagued by a spate of violence, including two homicides. Well. this certainly increased the police presence! The two officers had taken the elevator to check out the roof and, shortly before midnight, they entered the eighth-floor stairwell to walk back down. The lights were not working, making it nearly impossible to see, so both officers took out their flashlights.
This makes sense; if you can’t see, use your flashlights.
Officer Liang also drew his weapon, the police said. At the same moment the officers started down the stairwell, Mr. Gurley and his girlfriend, Melissa Butler, entered through a door on the seventh floor, fourteen concrete steps below the officers, It was unclear why, but Officer Liang accidentally discharged his weapon and fired a single shot that struck Mr. Gurley in the chest.. How and why did he “accidentally discharge” his weapon? According to the Beatles, “Happiness is a warm gun. Bang, bang; shoot, shoot.” Maybe Liang liked the song, but don’t they teach firearm safety in the police academy?
The force of the blast sent Mr. Gurley tumbling down two flights of stairs, where Ms. Butler knelt by his side. The officers, who briefly backed out of the stairwell, found her by Mr. Gurley’s side trying to save his life. Mr. Gurley was taken to Brookdale Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Following standard protocol, Officer Liang was relieved of his gun and his badge. Well, at least they finally did something right.
As details about the shooting emerged, Mr. Bratton faced questions about why an officer would be on patrol with his weapon drawn when there was no clear threat. “We leave that decision as to when to take a firearm out to the discretion of the officers based on what they are encountering or believe they may encounter,” Mr. Bratton said.
“There’s not a specific prohibition against taking a firearm out.” Well, there should be one against shooting unarmed citizens.
He added, “As in all cases, an officer would have to justify the circumstances that required him to or resulted in his unholstering his firearm.” Tony Herbert, a community advocate in East New York, said that it was not unusual for police officers to patrol with their guns drawn. “Honestly, I’d probably do the same thing if I’m walking into a dark staircase,” he said. “You want to be prepared for the worst if you feel the environment is threatening.” You want to be prepared, but not draw down unless there is a real threat of death or substantial bodily harm: that’s what the self-defense statute in Nevada says.
Janice Butler, whose cheeks were streaked with tears, said her sister was in the building and grieving and was unable to speak to reporters.
Even when the lights are working, the stairwell at the housing projects is so dark at night that anyone standing in it appears as a silhouette, according to residents.
The stairwells are fitted with fluorescent lights, they said, but the burned-out bulbs are seldom replaced, and the few that work are dim.
Mattie Dubose, a resident, yelled at the building superintendent Friday morning, as employees of the New York City Housing Authority furiously worked on the stairwells. “You see how dark our staircases are! This is ridiculous,” she said. “The staircases from eight down
are dark. If you want to walk in them, you need an escort.” (Because the police might be there!)
The Police Department is still dealing with the fallout over the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after a confrontation with the police in July, and sought to diffuse tension on Friday by both naming the officer in the shooting — which is unusual — and noting repeatedly that the victim was blameless. Well, at least they are owning up to what happened, but that still doesn’t excuse it. What are the policies regarding use of force? Maybe they need to be re-examined.
It was handled much more swiftly than in the case of Mr. Garner, when details about his death were made public only after a video surfaced.
Mr. Garner, who was unarmed and being arrested under suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes on a street corner, died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer trying to wrestle him to the ground.
A grand jury on Staten Island is deciding whether or not charges should be brought against any of the officers involved .But the episode has raised questions about the use of force by the police and led the commissioner to call for sweeping reforms.
About a month after Mr. Garner’s death, the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., sparked violent protests and prompted a national discussion over police tactics. The residents there remain on edge, so much so that the National Guard has already been called in to quell any unrest. On Monday, November 24, the Grand Jury declined not to indict officer Darren Wilson, 28, for firing six shots in an August confrontation that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“I think when people see a tragedy, of course it pains them and it reminds us that we have a lot of work to do,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Still, he said each of the recent deaths involving the police, from Staten Island to Ferguson, had its own dynamics and he warned against linking them all together. The shooting on Thursday in Brooklyn, he said, appeared to be a “tragic mistake.” Really? We thought it was just some rookie cops participating in a rite of passage.
Charles Barron, a former New York City councilman who was recently elected to the State Assembly, arrived at the Brooklyn building Friday morning to speak with residents, and said it would take more than an apology to ease the concerns of the community.
“People are outraged; this is happening all over the country; people have no respect for black life,” he said. “I want to hear the justification for this one. We’re going to fight for justice with this one just like they are in Ferguson.”
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