The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island have driven nationwide protests, along with the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice as the boy played with a toy gun in a park.
The video of the Rice shooting in Ohio shows cops driving up next to the boy. Officer Timothy Loehmann, who was dismissed from his previous department for concerns including being “weepy” on the gun range, pops out of the vehicle and immediately shoots the kid.
But there hasn’t been as much attention from politicians and pundits on the case of Akai Gurley, who lived in the projects in Brooklyn and was killed by an NYPD rookie the day before he planned to drive to Florida to surprise his mother on Thanksgiving.
Officer Peter Liang and his partner, both new to the force, were patrolling a dark stairwell at the Pink Houses project — not on a specific report of a crime, but because of a recent spate of criminal activity at the projects. Gurley and his girlfriend were on the seventh floor and tired of waiting for the elevator, so headed for the stairwell. When they opened the door, the officers were coming down from the eighth floor. Liang reportedly got spooked and fired into Gurley’s chest from a distance of about 10 feet. The officer told his superiors it was an accidental discharge.
His girlfriend, Melissa Butler, began running down the stairs and Gurley tried to follow, collapsing on the fifth floor landing. He was unarmed.
Butler ran to a neighbor to call 911, then began trying to perform CPR on Gurley. But Liang didn’t call in the shooting until five minutes after the 911 call. The New York Daily News reported that Liang, who may have been told to avoid vertical patrols of the dark stairwells in the first place, was texting his union rep before aiding the wounded man.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged “the deceased was not engaged in any activity other than trying to walk down the stairwell.” The case is now going to the grand jury, WCBS reported Friday.
Gurley was laid to rest this weekend, sparking more protests. But his family told Al Sharpton, who decided he was going to give the eulogy at the 28-year-old’s funeral, to back off when he tried to run the show.
Gurley’s relatives told Sharpton to stay away rather than turn the somber ceremonies into a spectacle.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Gurley’s aunt, Hertencia Petersen, told The Post. “He just wants to take credit for this when he’s never even contacted my sister [Gurley’s mother].
“Who made you the spokesperson of our family? We just want to bury our nephew with dignity and respect.”
Petersen was stunned that Sharpton and his National Action Network billed him as the eulogist for a Friday funeral, when they were planning on a Saturday service and wanted a speaker who actually knew Gurley.
“How can you do a eulogy for someone you don’t even know? It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
By late Friday, Sharpton accepted a rare defeat and backed off, though he blamed it on “confusion and division” within the Gurley family.
The family didn’t get any offers of help, either, to fly Gurley’s mother and stepdad up from Florida for the funeral. Petersen turned to the SEIU, of which she is a member as a healthcare worker, to help raise funds to get relatives to the funeral.