“Cops need to be held accountable for what they’re doing. They think it’s okay to kill people and not be held accountable. We should all fight for justice together, not against each other,”
- Kimberly Ballinger, domestic partner of Akai Gurley, April 2015
Kimberly’s words remain relevant today, the day after the conviction of NYPD Officer Peter Liang on charges of 2nd degree manslaughter and official misconduct, for the killing of Akai Gurley.
Organizers are calling for all cops to be held accountable when they brutalize and kill people in communities they are paid to protect, and for communities to continue to stand and fight for justice for the long haul, alongside the families of those whose lives have been stolen.
On November 20, 2014, Akai was with his girlfriend Melissa Butler in the NYCHA Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn. The elevator was not working, so they decided to take the stairs. Peter Liang was conducting what is known as a “vertical patrol,” which he described in his testimony on Monday as a type of patrol that on-duty NYPD officers conduct by taking the elevator to the top floor of a public housing building, going up to the roof to check for “signs of criminality,” and then working their way down to the lobby of the building. Vertical patrols have been challenged in court as violations of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of equal protection.
Peter Liang testified in court that he was trained to have his gun unholstered if he feared for his life. When he took the elevator to the eighth floor of a public housing building, he testified that he saw a dark stairwell and took his gun out before opening the door. Liang walked into the stairwell on the 8th floor with his finger on the trigger of his gun. He also testified that he heard a sound that startled him. All of these things raise the question: why had Liang been trained that it was okay to have his gun out in a place where people, including children, live and walk up and down the stairs on a daily basis?
We at CCR know that the NYPD as an institution has a history of protecting their own. Peter Liang is the first officer to be found guilty in New York City in 11 years, despite hundreds of police-involved killings of mostly Black and Latino civilians. Other officers such as Daniel Pantaleo and those involved in egregious killing of Eric Garner have not been held accountable. If communities of color divide and play identity politics about an Asian cop going to jail when white and white-passing officers get off the hook, it will only help the NYPD deflect accountability. The road to justice is long. Peter Liang’s conviction for the killing of Akai Gurley was right, and we must continue to fight for all officers who have killed community members - like Ramarley Graham, Eric Garner, Shantel Davis, Anthony Rosario, Hilton Vega, John Collado, Kyam Livingston, and so many others - to be held accountable.
We must heed Kimberly’s words and fight for justice together to hold all cops accountable.