Family, neighbors, activists and politicians are incensed at the NYPD after a rookie cop "accidentally" fatally shot an unarmed man in Brooklyn on Thursday. "We believe he intentionally fired his weapon because he’s inexperienced and frightened, over what we don’t know," said Assemblyman-elect Charles Barron, referring to Officer Peter Liang.
Liang shot 28-year-old Akai Gurley, whom NYPD Commissioner Bratton described as a "total innocent" at a press conference yesterday. Gurley had entered a dark stairwell with his girlfriend at the Pink Houses in East New York shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday, just as Liang and his partner were proceeding down from the landing one flight up as part of their "vertical patrol." No words were exchanged between the two parties, but Liang, who was carrying a flashlight and whose gun was already drawn, fired one round, fatally striking Gurley in the chest.
"They could’ve yelled, 'Stop! Turn around! Hands up!' " Veronica Newsome, a resident of the Pink Houses, told the Post.
Much of the criticism has turned toward those "vertical patrols." Bratton defended the patrols yesterday: "These are an essential part of policing, every bit as essential in policing housing developments as the sector car is to policing the streets of a precinct." But it seems many inexperienced rookies are assigned these patrols, and they often come in darkened, confusing, neglected complexes like the Pink Houses.
"In crime-ridden neighborhoods, rookie officers should never be operating on their own," said Public Advocate Letitia James. "They must be paired with highly trained and seasoned police officers, a policy promulgated by Commissioner [Bill] Bratton but which has yet to be implemented citywide."
"There have been long standing concerns about how vertical patrols have been carried out over the years and many complaints of mistreatment of public housing residents,” added NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "It’s important that there be a close examination of the vertical patrol tactics and training."
Former officers defended Liang's decision to take his gun out while patrolling: "It brings the police officer to a higher standard of protection when it’s dark," retired deputy inspector John C. Cerar told the Times, adding that it was within protocol for the officer. “I think all of us would rather be in an area that is lit rather than unlit.”
In a seemingly now-deleted comment in the initial Times article about the matter of Liang taking his gun out under those circumstances, community advocate and Al Sharpton associate Tony Herbert told them, "I’d probably do the same thing."
— Azi (@Azi) November 21, 2014
Liang, who has been on the job about a year and a half, has been placed on modified duty pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs investigation.
Residents have continually complained about the conditions at the Pink Houses; the lights in the part of the stairwell in which Gurley was shot were out at the time of the incident. "Work doesn’t get done until someone gets killed,” Earl Greggs, who lives on the third floor and heard the shooting, told the Post. "Now they come around here today and put up the lights all over the building."
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association union, agreed that the conditions at Pink Houses are deplorable and dangerous: "Dimly lit stairways and dilapidated conditions create fertile ground for violent crime while the constant presence of illegal firearms creates a dangerous and highly volatile environment for police officers and residents alike," he said in a statement. "The Pink Houses are among the most dangerous projects in the city, and their stairwells are the most dangerous places in the projects."
The city Department of Investigation issued a report Friday blasting the city for insufficient amount of security cameras in the building: "[The] investigation demonstrated that not only is it feasible to expedite the process to fund and install cameras and other security enhancements in public housing, but it is sustainable," said Mark Peters, the department’s commissioner.