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Like Michael Brown And Eric Garner, Akai Gurley's Death Inspires Anger


Now to New York - another death at the hands of police and another grand jury. Today, Brooklyn's district attorney Kenneth Thompson said he intends to seat a grand jury by the end of the month to look into the shooting-death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man. This comes on the heels of several days of huge protests following a grand jury decision out of Staten Island. The decision there was not to indict an officer in the death of Eric Garner, also an unarmed black man. A wake is being held for Mr. Gurley in Brooklyn this evening. WNYC's Stephen Nessen joins us now from outside the church where that wake is being held. And, Stephen, tell us more about the case of Gurley case. What happened?

STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: Well, the incident took place in East New York, Brooklyn. Two rookie police officers were conducting what's called a vertical patrol. That's when officers patrol a public housing complex from the roof to the ground floor, stopping on each floor to check to see if there's any crime underway, to see what people are doing. This happens in high-crime neighborhoods.In this case, Officer Peter Liang, he was walking down a darkened stairwell - there were no lights - with a flashlight in one hand and his gun drawn with the other. The 28-year-old Akai Gurley was visiting his girlfriend and getting his hair braided before Thanksgiving. He entered the stairwell about one floor below Officer Liang. From what we understand, Liang was apparently startled and fired a single shot. He hit Gurley right in the chest. And he died.

BLOCK: Now, this shooting of Mr. Gurley was on November 20 - about two weeks ago. What's been the response in the city to that case?

NESSEN: Well, it hasn't been as electric as the Eric Garner case or the Ferguson cases, in part because we don't know exactly happened in that stairwell. There was not an apparent struggle, according to the police. However, the the Brooklyn district attorney wants to present evidence to a grand jury at the end of the month, although it's not clear right now what charges he would be bringing. Gurley's mother flew in from Florida today, and she's calling for justice for her son and she had this to say today.


SYLVIA PALMER: My son was my life. There's nothing in this world can heal my pain and my heartache. And I pray to God that I get justice for my son because my son didn't deserve to die like that.

BLOCK: Now, Stephen, you mentioned that this was two rookies on patrol in this public housing complex when this shooting happened. Is that the usual practice?

NESSEN: It's not. The NYPD does have a program of sending rookie officers into high-crime neighborhoods alongside a seasoned officer. In this case, it was two rookie officers in the patrol. The NYPD is doing this program to help crack down on low-level crimes. It's known as broken windows policing, as I'm sure you've been hearing about. And it's also a way for the NYPD to make their presence felt in high-crime neighborhoods. The police commissioner Bill Bratton says he's going to look at this program, but he thinks he's going to remain committed to it.

BLOCK: And, Stephen, what is the scene at the wake for Mr. Gurley there in Brooklyn?

NESSEN: Dozens of people came out this weekend, many of whom have lost family members from police violence in the past two decades. They're here to support each other. There's a veteran police officer who says he's disgusted at persistant racism. And then there's Selina Fulfer (ph). She came down from Harlem. She says she doesn't know anyone in the family but felt compelled to show her support.

SELINA FULFER: Because we're all one big family. We're all Americans. We're black America. We're Americans. And if not my son today, it might be my son tomorrow.

NESSEN: The funeral's expected tomorrow. And protests are already happening right now in the city, and there are more protests expected for the rest of the weekend.

BLOCK: OK, those protests under way not just in New York but in other cities as well. WNYC's Stephen Nessen, thanks so much.

NESSEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Nessen
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