Killer Cop Indicted!

This past November, NYPD officer Peter Liang shot and killed Akai Gurley. Gurley and his girlfriend were descending the stairs of their housing project. Liang had opened the door with the hand holding his gun, and the gun fired a single shot. Upon finding Gurley dying in the stairwell, Liang immediately texted his police union representative. Now a Brooklyn grand jury has indicted Liang for second-degree murder, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and official misconduct. This indictment, contrasted with the failure of indictment in the Garner case, demonstrates that protests, including riots, can bring change. I think there are several good reasons to believe this.

First, indictments of police for shootings are uncommon, no matter how irresponsible or unjustified. Police are judged to be more credible witnesses by juries, even when their stories are childish fantasies, as in the testimony of Darren Wilson before the Ferguson grand jury. Also, prosecutors require police cooperation in testifying on the state’s behalf in trials, among other things. Thus, prosecutors are not eager to prosecute police. That the Brooklyn DA got an indictment is unusual.

It’s especially unusual in the Gurley case. In the Garner case, the Staten Island grand jury did not indict Daniel Pantaleo, despite watching Garner’s murder on videotape. There, the chokehold (or “carotid hold”) used was entirely unwarranted, the victim announced that he was unable to breathe, and yet Pantaleo persisted. This was not just a murder, but a malicious, callous murder. Not only should Pantaleo have been indicted and prosecuted, but also the police and EMTs for failing to attempt revival, despite being required to do so. However, the Gurley case was apparently an accident. It was an accident that should not have occurred had the officer been competent, but nevertheless accidental. Yet the Brooklyn grand jury (rightly) piled on the counts against Liang.

This outcome seems unlikely without the continued bravery of the protestors against police misconduct and racial partiality. It is common in history, though, that power grants concessions to demotivate social movements. With the possibility that justice might be done for the (mostly black) victims of police violence, the movement for police reform and racial justice might slow down. I hope that the movement will accept nothing less than complete victory and comprehensive police and criminal justice reform!

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