New York City lawmakers criticized local police after a rookie officer shot and killed an unarmed 28-year-old Brooklyn man who was walking down a stairwell with his girlfriend.
“People are outraged,” state Assembly member Charles Barron (D) told the New York Times. “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.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that the death of Akai Gurley was a “tragic mistake” on the part of the officer, identified as Peter Liang. Liang and his partner, both of whom have been on the force for less than 18 months, were patrolling the Louis H. Pink Houses on Thursday when Gurley was shot.
At the time, Gurley and his girlfriend, Melissa Butler, were walking down the stairwell from the eighth floor. Gurley collapsed on the fifth floor after being shot. The Huffington Post reported that Butler administed first aid with help from a 911 operator. But Gurley was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.
Janice Butler, Melissa’s sister, told the Times that Liang did not identify himself or issue any commands to Gurley.
“The cop didn’t present himself, he just shot him in the chest,” she said. “They didn’t see their face or nothing.”
WCBS-TV reported that Liang’s gun accidentally fired after he opened the door to the dimly-lit stairwell with the same hand he was using to carry the firearm.
“At this point, the deceased is, based on our preliminary investigation, totally innocent,” Commissioner Bill Bratton said, adding that Gurley “just happened to be in that hallway as the officers were entering the adjacent hallway one landing up, [and] was not engaged in any criminal activity of any type.”
But Barron, who spoke to Gurley’s family, rejected that account, calling it “a lie.”
“We believe he intentionally discharged his weapon because he’s inexperienced and he was frightened,” Barron told WCBS. “Over what, we don’t know.”
According to the Post, other officials denounced the department after the shooting, describing it as the latest in a series of preventable deaths involving Black male residents.
“The senseless killing of another unarmed African-American male by the NYPD should shock the conscience of all New Yorkers and the nation,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said in a statement. “At this point, talk is cheap. The community demands action.”
Bratton said on Friday that both the department’s internal affairs bureau and Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson are investigating the shooting. Meanwhile, de Blasio said community members should be wary of linking Gurley’s death to those of Eric Garner, who died after being choked by an NYPD officer earlier this year, and Michael Brown, whose shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri this past August led to demonstrations around the country.
“I think when people see a tragedy, of course it pains them and it reminds us that we have a lot of work to do,” de Blasio said.
Watch WCBS’ report, as aired on Friday, below.