It’s a tragedy. An innocent life cut short, and ended unexpectedly.
What happened to Akai Gurley was a tragedy.
Former NYPD officer Peter Liang, who was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter on Feb. 11 for shooting and killing Gurley, an unarmed Black man, should not face any prison time.
That was the recommendation of the Brooklyn district attorney. Ken Thompson announced in a statement March 24 that he will not seek prison time for the convicted officer.
Liang opened fire in the darkened stairwell of a New York City housing project during a routine patrol in November 2014, hitting and killing Gurley.
When he was convicted, it seemed like justice would be served at last, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement — a police officer who killed an unarmed Black man would finally be held accountable for his actions.
But as Brooklyn district attorney Thompson noted, there’s zero evidence that Liang “intended to kill or injure Akai Gurley.” Rather, when he “went into that building that night, he did so as part of his job and to keep the people of Brooklyn and our city safe.”
In a letter to Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, who will ultimately determine Liang’s sentence, Thompson wrote, “We believe that justice will best be served in this tragic case if the defendant is sentenced on the manslaughter count to five years of probation, with the condition that the defendant serve six months of home confinement, with electronic monitoring, and that he perform 500 hours of community services.”
Thompson, who is Black, has been called a ‘traitor’ for his decision.
Liang was a rookie officer who had his finger on the trigger while on patrol. He got startled by a loud noise and fired by accident. Liang didn’t even see Gurley until after he realized that the bullet that came out of his gun had ricocheted off a wall and struck Gurley in the chest. His mistake cost an innocent man his life. But putting him in prison will not bring Gurley back.
New York state assemblyman Charles Barron has threatened riots if the judge follows Thompson’s recommendations of no jail time, when Liang is set to be sentenced on April 14.
Tensions have mounted between the Black communities and police forces nationwide, no officers were indicted in high-profile cases like that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. The officers involved in those killings were white, Liang is Chinese American.
Some have suggested that Liang was convicted because he was Asian—a convenient scapegoat for a system that has gone out of its way, over and over, to protect white police officers.
But would prison time for Liang really reduce the likelihood of the next Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or Walter Scott being killed?
It’s a tragedy, yes. An innocent man was killed. Gurley’s 3-year-old daughter will grow up without her father. There is plenty of heartache to go around.
Now, it is time to mourn and grieve. Embrace that grief and heal. Reconciling grief will not happen quickly. But it is the first step toward healing.