Peter Liang—the NYPD rookie cop who drew his weapon on patrol in the Louis H. Pink housing project and shot Akai Gurley out of "jitters"—not only texted his union rep while his unarmed victim bled out in a stairwell but also waited over six and a half minutes to radio for help or respond to communication from his commanding officer, who had heard the 911 call.
The New York Daily News reports these details, adding that—as per their texts—Liang and his partner Shaun Landau were not even aware of the exact address of the building that they were inside. Additionally, they had been ordered by the head officer of the local housing command to refrain from the type of stairwell policing that resulted in Gurley's accidental execution. Commander Miguel Iglesias had "opted for exterior policing," issuing a directive stating that if officers went inside the buildings they were supposed to check the lobby only.
"There is a distinct possibility that Officer Liang doesn't quite understand what happened," a police official said to the New York Times a few days after the shooting. In the same piece, Liang is reported to have told his neighbor, "It was so dark. I was so scared."
Akai Gurley bled out for six and a half minutes while the cop who killed him texted his union rep. So it goes with our endemic fear of black bodies in America, which continues to be justified by reasons both so weak as to be pathetic ("It was so dark. I was so scared") and overblown to the point of mental pathology ("It looked like a demon... like Hulk Hogan"). As Greg Howard wrote: "They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest."
Young, unarmed black men have been killed by police officers in NYC housing projects before: 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury Jr., in 2004 (the white officer was "startled," shot instantly, and avoided indictment, as is tradition) and 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr., in 1994. Nicholas Heyward Jr. was carrying a toy rifle at the time, engaging in a game of cops and robbers. Cops and robbers. His last words were "We're playing," and then he was shot. "It was an incident that happened, period," said the chief of the housing police at the time.
That same night in 1994, another unarmed minor (Jamiel Johnson, 16) was shot by NYPD for displaying a toy weapon. 20 years later, there are no further impediments to the police practice of simultaneously drawing and discharging a weapon alongside racially charged aggression and fear. Timothy Loehmann, the lying, murderous rookie cop who on November 22 shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice on sight from a still-moving police car for the same "reason," said by way of explanation, "I had no choice."
Previously, Loehmann had been described by supervisors as "distracted," "weepy," and "emotionally immature." He'd resigned from a previous position after becoming aware of an investigation into his behavior, which a memo explained in these terms: "Ptl. Loehmann's inability to perform basic functions as instructed... leads one to believe that he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation."
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies," wrote Loehmann's deputy police chief.
It seems fair to wonder, all things considered, if time or training would be able to change or correct anything at all. There is no prohibition against an officer drawing a gun even when there is no specific threat to his own safety, and even with that loose policy, enacted in fatalities, we know how often the mere presence of a black male body is claimed by an officer as a supernaturally specific threat.
At the time of his death, Akai Gurley had a two-year-old daughter. Before his death, had just received a job offer from the city housing authority. According to the NYT, he told friends that he was "relieved to have a reliable paycheck to help provide."
Image via AP.