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Police Kill Akai Gurley

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton speaks Friday at One Police Plaza about a shooting Friday morning in which an NYPD officer accidentally shot and killed an unarmed man. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

On Thursday, 28-year-old Akai Gurley had just entered a dimly lit stairwell in a Brooklyn housing project with his girlfriend. New York rookie police officer Peter Liang was also in that stairwell on routine “vertical patrol” with his partner. For reasons unknown, without provocation or any words exchanged, Liang fired a single short from his service weapon, fatally striking Gurley in the chest.

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has described the incident as a “very unfortunate tragedy” that appears to be an “accidental discharge.”

As an honorably retired 20-year veteran sergeant of the Los Angeles Police Department, the assertion that Gurley’s murder was a tragic accident is insulting and outrageous. Police officers are trained to use extreme caution when displaying and pointing their weapons. An accidental discharge occurs when a weapon is discharged at a time not intended. A negligent discharge occurs in the discharge of a firearm involving culpable carelessness. A murder occurs when an improperly unholstered weapon is discharged because a police officer is “startled” in a dimly lit stairwell.

What an officer “believes” they may encounter is code talk for "I messed up and now I need to justify something that is unjustifiable."

After having read Bratton’s depiction of the incident, I have never been surer that police chiefs and police commissioners first and foremost seek to protect that entity they belong to, that organization which they command, and that state in which they reign. Even at the risk of sounding ridiculous and disingenuous, I say that someone is trying to convince us that Officer Liang is somehow not solely responsible for taking the life of Akai Gurley -- a young black man and father.

According to Bratton, Liang had “drawn his weapon before encountering Gurley.” Bratton went on to state, “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.”

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Sound familiar? Sound just a little like the Darren Wilson defense, “I was in fear.” Sound anything like the LAPD gang officers who shot and killed Ezell Ford for "hand hiding"? Sound like the South Carolina State Trooper who shot and injured a black motorist who was attempting to retrieve his identification as requested?

What an officer “believes they may encounter" is code talk for "I messed up and now I need to justify something that is unjustifiable." "I couldn’t see his hands" is code talk for “I have no reasonable explanation for having just killed this individual.” “He reached for his waistband” is code-talk for “I have no business being a police officer.”


Officer, you are likely to encounter decent people who may just need directions, a lost child trying to re-connect with a parent -- and then sometimes you might encounter a bad guy. Why then even have a holster as part of an officer’s equipment belt? Why not just allow police officers to walk around at the ready–gun in hand, because, well, you never know.

So now we know that if you are a passenger in a car, a pedestrian on a public street, or an innocent person in a stairwell you just might end up dead at the hands of a police officer whom you may have angered, scarred, or startled.

Until there are serious personal consequences for police officers who attempt to hide behind “state of mind,” none of us are safe. There needs to be an immediate end to the “state of mind” proffer by police officers when deadly force is used.


In the words of murdered [at the hands of NY cops] New York City resident Eric Garner, “this…stops today.”

Cheryl Dorsey
Black & Blue