Guilty! read the news headlines in big bold letters. I write this in light of the recent verdict involving the 2014 shooting death of 28 year old Akai Gurley by NYPD officer Peter Liang. It’s been two years since his death. He leaves behind several loving family members which include a now four year old daughter Akaila.
I can only imagine the pain of loss the family has had to endure or the methods in which they use to cope with this tragic turn of events. What were the thoughts and feelings of Akai's friend, Melissa, as she struggled to keep the life force from leaving Akai, after he was struck down by a single shot to the chest from none other than a police officers gun?
What went thru Akai Gurleys mind as he felt the sting from a single bullet and what went thru officer Liang's mind as his life has just taken a turn for what could prove to be the absolute worst outcome. Are their families prepared to deal with the horror and suffering of what is being regarded as a tragic mistake?
Normally you call the police when someone is shot, injured or assaulted, but in this case, who do you call when the ones who are assumed the responsibility to protect and serve are the very same perpetrators of the crime itself.
The single shot was discharged from the Glock 9 of rookie police officer Peter Liang. Officer Liang claimed, initially he was unaware he actually shot someone, perhaps he was in a state of shock and denial as he and his partner discussed whose phone should be used to call the Sergeant. Officer Liang was afraid he would lose his job for firing his service weapon, so saving the life of Akai Gurley seemed to be of little to no importance. "Shot In The Dark, Cop Accidentally kills man in stairwell..." reads the headline and as to officer Liangs own personal account, "he was afraid".
There were many details involving this case which led a jury to find officer Liang guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct. In light of the many shooting deaths of unarmed black and latino males involving police officers, this may seem like a victory. Others cried murder and pushed for the maximum penalty under the law. Some even say he’s being used as a scapegoat for the NYPD. He is the first police officer to be convicted in the last decade.
I find this to be a sad case in our history. Here we have two young men Akai Gurley 28 and Peter Liang, who was also 28 at the time of the shooting, meeting at the crossroads to a deadly outcome. Both young men were victims of circumstance. Akai Gurley born of West Indian descent and raised in the belly of Brooklyn, was found guilty before having a chance to prove his innocence as he lay clinging to breathe from an unsuspecting single shot to the chest.
This wasn’t beef he had from a rival gang or a robbery gone bad. We know that living in the ghettos of Brooklyn can be very dangerous to say the least. To take a quote from rap artist Smif N Wessuns 1995 song “Stand Strong", “it gets mad deep in the streets, when you gotta watch ya back for beast, enemies even ya peeps”, the beast being slang for police.
Peter Liang, born in Hong Kong, residing in Bensonhurst and a rookie to the NYPD force, was given the responsibility of patrolling the darkened stairwells of Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York Brooklyn. Even people who live there are afraid to explore the stairways of the notorious projects. Officer Liang took an oath to protect and serve but did he really understand the responsibility of such an oath? Did his superiors use fair judgement when they assigned him that post?
Officer Liang was fresh to the force with 18 months in, yet being a resident of Brooklyn he may have been well aware of the dangers in becoming a police officer in the current state of New York. One can also assume that officer Liang may have been thrusted into a situation he was ill equipped to deal with. If this is the case, then one can assess that not only is officer Liang guilty of the charges presented against him but it also illustrates the poor judgement on the part of his superiors within the NYPD. The NYPD is also guilty of the same charges which officer Liang now faces 15 years to life for.
What should be the punishment for an institution which has been under scrutiny for its many cases of reckless endangerment and official misconduct, which often results in false accusations, brutality and even murder of innocent men and women mainly black and latino?
Liang and Gurley were both born of modest parents who both struggled to make a better life for themselves and their families. They both met their destined fate that gruesome day in that dark, cavernous stairwell. Neither expected to be the model for similar cases to come, neither wanted to be the poster child for this advertisement. If either could turn back time…
Two families destroyed due to the negligence of the institution known as the NYPD. We can choose sides but in this instance I will remain neutral and just offer an aspect for conversation and further analysis not for judgement and condemnation.
Akai Gurley took a bullet from Officer Peter Liang and officer Liang took a figurative bullet to diffuse an already volatile relationship between the NYPD and the people of the community. We endured stop and frisk, where innocent black and latinos were racially profiled and sometimes detained and brutalized by members of the NYPD. I know, not all cops are bad but each cop reflects the psychology of the institution which he or she is employed by. In addition, not every young black male is a criminal, but many have been victims of police brutality, if not first hand, then by a family member or friend.
There are deeper issues embedded in the seams of our society that makes us all guilty. In some form or fashion we have to share the blame for what this society has become or what it is becoming. Our children are afraid to play outside, the parents fear for for their children’s lives while the people who are employed to provide and ensure some level of safety are in fear of losing their lives on the job.
Fear is the bodies natural alarm system. Many of us cannot operate under fear, then others are propelled into action because of their fear. Some fear the unknown while others are intrigued by it. Officer Peter Liang was afraid way before he stepped into that deadly stairwell. I’m sure he didn’t have intentions on killing a young black unarmed male that day but he did have his finger on the trigger and whether accidental or not he did fire the fatal shot that ended the life of Akai Gurley.
To add insult to injury, Akai was still breathing and may have had a chance to survive if given the proper attention. This speaks to the very fabric of a damaged people entrenched in social and civil injustices, disproportionate access to information and resources, conditioned into acclimating in institutions cloaked in racism, classism and fascism.
This is clearly a case of injustice and a tragedy for the Gurley family, the Liang family and us as a people. I sincerely sympathize with the families who have to relive this tragic turn of events. Hopefully we as a people, all races can find a commonality thru humanity and realize that All Lives do Matter.
Although it is said that every child is born innocent, many of us are found guilty since birth.
By General 'Tony' Steele