New York Police ‘Rookie’ Fatally Shoots Unarmed Man, Police Commissioner Says Victim ‘A Total Innocent’

Tara West - Author

Nov. 21 2014, Updated 5:39 p.m. ET

A 28-year old man who the New York Police Commissioner is calling “a total innocent” was fatally shot by a “rookie” police officer in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

The New York Times reports that Akai Gurley was shot in a darkened Brooklyn stairwell in what is being described by police as “an unfortunate accident.” Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said that the victim was not engaged in any activity other than trying to walk down the stairs.

The officer who shot Gurley had only been on the police force for less than 18 months and was still in his probationary status when this incident occurred. The officer was named as NYPD Peter Liang.

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According to the Times, 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, 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. 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. After taking out the flashlights, Officer Liang, for an unknown reason, drew his weapon.

Meanwhile, on the seventh floor, Gurley and his girlfriend, Melissa Butler, entered the stairwell. According to Butler and the Police Commissioner’s accounts, almost immediately Gurley was shot. Butler claims that the police never made themselves known and instead just began firing for a reason still unknown. The bullet went through Gurley’s chest and he was pronounced dead at the Brookdale Hospital.

Vice reports that the official statement of Police Commissioner Barton show that Gurley was nothing more than a victim of an overzealous police officer.

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“The deceased is a total innocent who was not engaged in any criminal activity of any type. It appears to be an accidental discharge, with no intention to impact anyone. A very unfortunate tragedy.”

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Charles Barron, a former New York City councilman who was recently elected to the State Assembly, made his way to the apartment building to speak with the residents. Barron was outraged over the incident and said it will take more than an apology to make things right.

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“People are outraged, this is happening all over the country, people have no respect for black life. 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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However, unlike Ferguson, there is no way Officer Liang could have known the color of his victim. The stairwell had no lights on at the time of the shooting and made it impossible for anyone to appear as anything other than a silhouette.

What do you think about the New York Police shooting? Should race even be brought up in this obviously unfortunate case?


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