The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is profoundly disappointed that the Brooklyn District Attorney, Ken Thompson, has recommended that former New York City Police Officer Peter Liang receive no jail time in the killing of Akai Gurley, an unarmed African American. Thompson has recommended Liang receive five years of probation, with six months of home confinement and electronic monitoring, as well as 500 hours of community service. Last month, Liang was tried and found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct in connection with the death of Mr. Gurley.
“This reinforces the sense that there are two justice systems — one for the police and one for civilians — where police officers, even when convicted of taking the life of an innocent person, can trust that prosecutors will not recommend that the officer serve time in jail,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the LDF.
On November 21, 2014, Akai Gurley was shot and killed by then-Officer Peter Liang in the stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses public housing complex in Brooklyn. As rookie officers, Liang and his partner were unfamiliar with local residents and entered Mr. Gurley’s public housing building on a “vertical patrol” with their guns drawn, despite the absence of any danger or justifiably perceived threat. These circumstances directly contributed to Mr. Gurley’s tragic death. LDF settled a case last year in which it challenged trespass stops and arrests of public housing residents and guests by NYPD officers.
“We lauded District Attorney Thompson and his office for their efforts in pursuing a conviction in this case. But this sentencing recommendation diminishes the effort, dedication and resolve of his office in achieving that conviction,” said Janai Nelson, LDF’s Associate Director-Counsel. “Much of what was won — the belief that police could actually be held accountable for their actions — will be lost if Liang’s sentence is not commensurate with the harm he caused, especially when the same leniency is not afforded to other defendants.”
Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, LDF Senior Community Organizer who attended the trial of former Officer Liang and has supported Mr. Gurley’s family, remarked: “We need to critically consider whether uniform criteria are being applied to the citizens of Brooklyn. District Attorney Thompson stated that former Officer Liang did not intend to kill Mr. Gurley and therefore does not deserve to go to prison. This standard needs to be examined closely in light of sentences meted out to average citizens convicted of violent crimes in New York City.” Mr. Akinwole-Bandele suggested that Mr. Thompson’s sentencing recommendation has further eroded community confidence in the justice system when police officers kill unarmed African Americans.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.