The killing of Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old unarmed African American man, was a tragedy that underscores the need for systemic changes in the NYPD and the NYC Housing Authority.
On Nov. 20, 2014, NYPD officer Peter Liang, a Chinese American rookie police officer, and his partner entered a dark stairwell in Mr. Gurley’s Brooklyn housing project on a routine “vertical patrol.” Officer Liang had his gun drawn, and a bullet from his weapon was discharged, hit a wall, and struck Mr. Gurley. Neither Officer Liang nor his partner administered CPR to Mr. Gurley. On Feb. 12, 2016, Officer Liang was convicted on one count of second-degree manslaughter and one count of official misconduct.
We believe that police officers, regardless of their race, must be held accountable for their actions. Earlier this month, the jury concluded that Officer Liang had recklessly caused the death of Mr. Gurley. We respect the jury’s verdict in this case.
At the same time, we recognize that few police officers have faced criminal prosecution for killing innocent victims. Since 1999, at least 179 people have been killed in New York City by on-duty NYPD officers. Until this year, only three cases led to indictments, and only one police officer was convicted. This does not suggest that Officer Liang should escape responsibility for his actions. Instead, it reinforces our call for a criminal justice system that treats all people fairly and applies a single standard of police accountability.
In the past, AALDEF has represented Asian American victims of police shootings, as well as Asian American police officers passed over for promotions because of their race. As a civil rights organization, we believe that no individual should be subjected to unequal treatment under the law. We expect Officer Liang to be treated fairly at his sentencing hearing, and we respect his right to appeal his conviction.
We also believe that the NYPD and the NYC Housing Authority must address several systemic issues, including the assignment and supervision of rookie police officers; the training of all officers to prevent racial bias in policing; and the proper maintenance of services to public housing tenants living in NYCHA buildings.
We urge the Asian American community to work in multiracial coalitions with other New Yorkers to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
For further information, contact:Margaret Fung, Executive Director212.966.5932