Burying their dead: Funeral for police-shooting victim Akai Gurley

Burying their dead: Funeral for police-shooting victim Akai Gurley
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The family of the Red Hook man shot dead by a police officer in November put him to rest at a funeral in Clinton Hill on Dec. 6.

Akai Gurley’s younger brother Malachi Palmer choked up as he read a poem at the services inside Brown Memorial Baptist Church, and their mother Sylvia Palmer was set to say a few words, but opted not to because she was too overcome to speak. The formalities of the funeral were a balm after the trauma Gurley suffered, according to a friend of the family.

“We wanted to bury Akai with grace and dignity after everything he experienced,” said activist Kevin Powell, who delivered the eulogy.

Gurley died on Nov. 20 after Officer Peter Liang shot him once in the chest inside the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York. Liang and another cop were sweeping the dark stairwell, and Liang shot Gurley once as he entered one flight below, according to cops.

Liang had his gun drawn when Gurley opened the door, and Liang fired the fatal shot without warning, according to reports. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called Gurley a “total innocent” and the shooting an “unfortunate accident.”

Pallbearers carry Akai Gurley’s casket out of Brown Memorial Baptist Church.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The city paid for the funeral, according to reports.

Notably absent was civil-rights firebrand Al Sharpton, who Gurley’s family asked to steer clear after his National Action Network sent out an advisory listing the funeral as the evening before, and touting Sharpton as the eulogist. Gurley’s aunt lashed out at Sharpton in the pages of the New York Post, telling him to keep his publicity machine away from the memorial.

Sharpton has appeared at press conferences with Gurley’s live-in girlfriend and daughter, while Assemblyman Charles Barron (D–East New York) has spoken alongside Gurley’s parents and another girlfriend, Melissa Butler, who was with Gurley when he died.

Barron has blasted Sharpton for calling the shooting an “accident.”

In the wake of the controversial grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers who killed unarmed black men Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced on Dec. 5 that he is working to bring Gurley’s killing before a grand jury to consider charges against Liang.

Sylvia Palmer weeps as she leaves her son’s funeral.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

On Monday, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, with the backing of many city and state pols, including Borough President Adams, called on Gov. Cuomo to appoint him as special prosecutor for all cases where officers killed unarmed civilians, saying it would “restore public trust.”

In response, Thompson reiterated his strong opinion that, in Kings County, he is the guy for the job.

“As the duly elected district attorney of Brooklyn, I am adamantly opposed to the request by the New York state attorney general for authority to investigate and potentially prosecute alleged acts of police brutality,” Thompson said in a statement. “No one is more committed to ensuring equal justice under the law than I am.”

Gurley’s family has not expressed a preference as to who it should be, but they think a special prosecutor is definitely necessary given the everyday realities of Brooklyn’s courts, Powell said.

“We certainly believe a special prosecutor is necessary,” he said. “There is too intimate a relationship between a district attorney’s office and the police.”

Mourners pray during Akai Gurley’s funeral.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro‌witz@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz