Parents mourn stairwell-shooting victim, DA investigates

Parents mourn stairwell-shooting victim, DA investigates
Photo by Paul Martinka

The parents of an unarmed Red Hook man shot to death last month by a rookie police officer broke their silence on Friday, just ahead of Brooklyn’s top prosecutor revealing that he is pursuing charges against the cop.

Akai Gurley’s mother and father held a morning press conference at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill to call for Officer Peter Liang to be prosecuted for killing Gurley in the dark stairwell of an East New York public housing project on Nov. 20.

“My son was my heart, and now he’s been taken away from me,” said Sylvia Palmer. “I feel like I’m lying in the morgue with him right now. It’s not right. I need justice for my son.”

In an unusual move, District Attorney Ken Thompson announced hours after the tearful gathering that he is working to impanel a grand jury to consider charging Liang.

“I pledge to conduct a full and fair investigation and to give the grand jury all of the information necessary to do its job,” he said.

Akai Gurley died that night 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 stairwell, and Liang shot Gurley once in the chest 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.”

Palmer and her husband Kenneth Palmer recalled Gurley as a loving son, brother, and father.

“All I have to say is that my son was a very good son,” said Kenneth Palmer. “My son was my sunshine.”

Remember our son: Sylvia and Kenneth Palmer, sitting left and right, parents of slain Red Hook man Akai Gurley, join Brooklyn activist Kenneth Powell in demanding justice for their son, who deid on Nov. 20 after a rookie cop shot him in a dark public housing stairwell.
Photo by Paul Martinka

Gurley’s death came shortly before two grand juries decided not to indict the police officers who killed two Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner, on Staten Island. Marchers have invoked Gurley’s name in chants at the demonstrations that have roiled New York and cities across the country during the past two weeks, decrying the grand jury decisions.

A local activist who joined the grieving parents at the press conference said the deaths circumvented the American legal system in a way that is reminiscent of the country’s racist past.

“We believe that this feels like a series of modern-day lynchings,” said Kenneth Powell, president of the activist group Building Knowledge Nation.

Grand jury proceedings are usually shrouded in near-total secrecy, but their inner workings have become the subject of intense scrutiny in the wake of the Brown and Garner killings. Thompson rejected the notion, voiced by many activists and legal observers regarding those cases, that a governor-appointed special prosecutor would have done a better, fairer job.

“I was elected by the people of Brooklyn to do this job without fear or favor and that is exactly what I intend to do,” Thompson said.

The Palmers pleaded for peace and calm at his memorial service, which is scheduled for Saturday morning.

“Let peace reign,” his father said. “Enjoy the good times that we had with our son and let his soul rest in peace.”

Funeral services for Gurley will be held at 11 am on Dec. 6 at Brown Memorial Baptist Church (484 Washington Ave. at Gates Avenue in Clinton Hill).

Gone: Akai Gurley, a model who was set to begin a job with the city’s Housing Authority, deid on Nov. 20.
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Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro‌[email protected]‌cnglo‌cal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz