NEW YORK — Elected officials told mourners the world was watching Dec. 5 as they remembered an unarmed man shot dead by a rookie police officer in a darkened public housing stairwell.
At a wake that came hours after the Brooklyn District Attorney announced plans to take the case to a Grand Jury, Akai Gurley was mourned by relatives as a loyal father and son.
But Gurley also has become part of a narrative of anguish over police use of deadly force, with his wake coming amid protests over the lack of criminal charges against white police officers in the recent deaths of unarmed black men in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri.
“We know because of the circumstances that brought about Akai’s death, the entire world family is watching,” the city’s elected Public Advocate, Letitia James, told the gathering.
State Assemblyman Walter Mosley told the hundreds of mourners that “regardless of what’s going on in the world, in the nation, we need to say, ‘Peace be still.’ The day of atonement and judgment will come another day.”
A stream of mourners lined a Brooklyn street as Gurley’s casket was brought into a church. “He was an American!” mourner Selina Forfort exclaimed.
Officer Peter Liang was patrolling a pitch-dark stairwell by flashlight, his gun drawn, when the 28-year-old Gurley and his girlfriend opened a door into the stairway Nov. 20, police said. Liang fired without a word and apparently by accident, police said. Police Commissioner William Bratton has said Gurley was “totally innocent.”
The wake came two days after a grand jury on Staten Island decided criminal charges weren’t warranted against a different police officer in the chokehold death of another unarmed man, Eric Garner.
Last week, a Missouri Grand Jury decided not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. The cases have sparked debate around the country about the grand jury process.
Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson said he would convene a Grand Jury “because it is important to get to the bottom of what happened,” pledging “a full and fair investigation.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton initially planned to speak at Gurley’s service but later said he wouldn’t attend because of differences among Gurley’s relatives. Gurley’s funeral is scheduled for Dec. 6.
He was “always a faithful, faithful person,” his stepfather, Kenneth Palmer, told mourners. “When you hear laughter, that’s Akai. When you see a smile, that’s Akai,” he said. ” … Let us not forget.”
By Michael Balsamo. AP writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report