Civil rights activists and residents have called a New York grand jury decision to indict a city police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed Brooklyn man a step in the right direction for people nationwide amid growing concern about the seeming lack of police accountability in officer-involved shootings. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said charging Peter Liang, the rookie New York Police Department officer who shot Akai Gurley in the stairwell of a housing project building last November, marked “a significant departure” from the decisions not to indict police officers in Staten Island, New York and Ferguson, Missouri in the highly publicized deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
“We are gratified that D.A. Ken Thompson moved this process along quickly,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “At this moment we can say that our justice system is working the way it is intended to work. Police officers, who set the highest standard for conduct and behavior, should be held accountable just as any ordinary citizen would if they fired a weapon without cause.”
A grand jury was impaneled last week to investigate what it found to be a crime – Liang, 27, fired a single bullet that struck Gurley, 28, in the chest. Liang was standing in the unlit stairwell of the Pink Houses, on the landing of a floor below, according to several reports. Instead of radioing the incident in to higher-ups, Liang and his partner first texted their police union representatives.
Liang, who has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and two counts of official misconduct, was scheduled for an arraignment on the manslaughter charge in Brooklyn Supreme Court Wednesday. The indictment brought some sense of hope at the Pink House, considered one of New York City’s most crime-ridden buildings, the New York Times reported. The charges for Liang also came one day after protesters marked six months since Brown’s death. Last week, legal advocates were in a state Supreme Court seeking the public release of secret grand jury testimony in the Garner case.