Community leaders, friends and activists rallied today behind Melissa Butler, resident of the Brooklyn Louis H. Pink Houses and girlfriend of Akai Kareem Gurley, a 28-year-old unarmed Black man who was shot and killed without cause by rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang.
Liang was reportedly on an overtime tour assigned specifically to the East New York New York City Housing Authority public housing building when he shot and killed Gurley in what was reported to be a dimly lit stairwell. Police officers routinely perform what is known as “Vertical Patrols” in NYCHA Buildings, a method of patrol that allows police officers to stop, question and frisk anybody inside of one of these buildings with little to no regard for privacy or Fourth Amendment protections.
“I remember waiting for the elevator one time and these two cops they came out of the staircase and asked me for ID,” explained Ron Mcintosh, a resident of the Pink Houses for the last eight years. “They literally saw me come out of my apartment and lock the door behind me and I was like like whatever, luckily I had my ID on me.”
The unlucky ones like Akai Gurley didn’t even have a second to say anything as the rookie cop Peter Liang crept through the dimly lit stairwell with his gun drawn even though NYPD top brass says there was no reported criminal activity going on in the area.
Nicholas Heyward, whose son was killed by the NYPD 20 years ago during Police Commissioner Bratton’s first tour as the NYPD’s top cop, was on scene at the gathering today in Brooklyn and spoke of the similarities between the two cases.
“My son was 13 years old when he was shot and killed by NYPD officers in a stairwell in the Gowanus Houses in Boerum Hill Brooklyn. … They were playing a game of cops and robbers, they all had plastic toy guns which were all brightly colored. In the case, Bratton did absolutely no investigation, and Brooklyn District attorney Charles Hynes closed the case after saying that the stairwell lighting was dim and that “things happened in a split second.” This in itself has shown me that Bratton has failed us not just back then but is failing us again.”
Similarly to the statements made today, by both Mayor De Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton, back in 1994 NYPD brass tried to portray the death of these unarmed Black youth as also “just an accident.” Joseph Leake, chief of the housing police in ’94, was quoted by The New York Times as saying, “We are not trying to establish blame, it was an incident that happened, period.” Or in other words, this cop will get away with murder, get over it and move on.
But the poor and working people of NYC can never forget these injustices!
At the rally, community members seethed with both anger and sadness, and chants of “Bratton Must Go!” rang out during the somber public display of unity.
Community organizers urged participants to keep Gurley’s memory alive, and a march was being organized for the next day to the police precinct responsible for the shooting.