*28-yr old Akai Gurley had just entered a dimly lit stairwell in a Brooklyn, NY housing project with his girlfriend. NY rookie police officer Peter Liang was also in that stair well on routine “vertical-patrol” with his partner.
It is reported that it is not uncommon for officers to un-holster their weapons while in the stairwell. For reasons unknown, Liang without provocation or any words exchanged, fired a single short from the barrel of his service weapon fatally striking Gurley in the chest.
NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described the incident as a “very unfortunate tragedy” that appeared to be an “accidental discharge.” The medical examiner has ruled the death of unarmed Gurley a homicide.
As an honorably retired 20-yr veteran sergeant of the Los Angeles Police Department the assertion that Gurley’s murder was merely a tragic accident is insulting and outrageous. Police officers are trained to use extreme care and caution when handling, displaying and pointing their weapon. 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 was “startled” in a dimly lit stairwell.
After having read Bratton’s depiction of the incident, I have never been surer than I am at this very moment that police chiefs and police commissioners first and foremost seek to protect that entity they belong to; that organization which they command; that state in which they reign. Even at the risk of sounding ridiculous and disingenuous someone is trying to convince us that somehow Officer Liang is not singularly and solely responsible for taking the life of Akai Gurley, young, black man and father. References have been made regarding the lack of proper lighting in the East New York Pink Houses and rampant crime in the building.
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.”
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 SC State Trooper who shot and injured a black motorist who was attempting to retrieve his identification as asked?
What an officer “believes” they may encounter is, in my opinion, 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 . “He reached for his waistband” is code-talk and now suddenly officers report, “I was in fear for my safety.”
Officer, you are likely to encounter decent people who may just need directions while on patrol; you may encounter a lost child trying to re-connect with a parent and sometimes you just might encounter a resident in an apartment building stairwell. The premise that an officer is allowed to brandish his weapon because of what he “believes” he might encounter is frightening. 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 you never know. Encountering a bad guy is inherent if you are a police officer.
So now we know that if you are a passenger in a car, a pedestrian on a public street, or an innocent in a stairwell you just might end up dead at the hands of a police officer.
Unless and until there are serious personal consequences for police officers who attempt to hide behind a “state of mind,” “belief” or whatever else, difficult to refute reason, an officer utters … none of us are safe.
In the words of murdered [at the hands of NY cops] Staten Island resident Eric Garner, “this… stops today.”
Cheryl Dorsey is a retired LAPD sergeant, speaker, and much sought after police expert on important issues making national headlines; as such she has appeared as a guest expert on the Dr. Phil Show. She writes and provides commentary on police culture and surviving police encounters. She is the author of The Creation of a Manifesto, Black & Blue; an autobiography that pulls the covers of the LAPD and provides an unfiltered look into the department’s internal processes. Visit Cheryl’s website www.cheryldorsey.net., listen to her on Soundcloud follow on Twitter @retLAPDsgt
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”~JFK