Mourners heard a rallying cry for justice on Saturday at the New York funeral of an unarmed black man shot dead by police as nationwide protests against similar killings continued for a fourth night.
Akai Gurley, 28, father of a two-year-old daughter, was shot dead when a police officer opened fire in a dimly lit staircase at a Brooklyn apartment building where Gurley was walking with his girlfriend late on Nov. 20.
Friends and relatives filed past Gurley’s open gray casket to pay their respects at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church.
Activist Kevin Powell, who delivered the eulogy, thanked New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city for covering the costs of the funeral and issued a passionate rallying cry for change.
“Akai was innocent, innocent, innocent,” he said. “This is modern-day lynchings, over and over again. Akai Gurley was simply the latest victim of this,” he said, calling for homicide charges to be brought.
He demanded police reform and spoke of the recent protests that have mobilized thousands of people across the US to denounce a spate of killings of unarmed black men by white police officers.
“Let’s do everything we can to prevent any more situations like this,” he said.
A handful of elected officials, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and various activists also attended the ceremony. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said he would present all the evidence for a grand jury to decide whether charges should be brought.
“I pledge to conduct a full and fair investigation and to give the grand jury all of the information necessary to do its job,” he said.
New York’s police commissioner has said Gurley was a totally innocent victim. After rookie cop Peter Liang discharged the bullet that struck Gurley, he and partner Shaun Landau did not respond to radio contact for more than six-and-a-half minutes, the New York Daily News said.
Instead it was a neighbor who telephoned for the ambulance that rushed Gurley to the hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.
Gurley’s funeral comes amid nationwide protests across the US against a spate of similar killings of unarmed black men by white police officers, including 18-year-old Michael Brown who was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9 and Eric Garner, a father of six who was killed in a chokehold by police in New York City in July.
Protests continued on Saturday with civil rights activist Al Sharpton’s National Action Network holding an event in Harlem attended by film director Spike Lee.
Other high-profile figures made statements, including Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who warmed up for an NBA game in a T-shirt bearing the words “I Can’t Breathe” on Saturday.
Those were the final words gasped by 43-year-old Garner, whom police wrestled to the ground in Staten Island for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
Protests continued in California and Washington, where a main road and bridge was closed as rolling demonstrations moved through the city. At New York City’s Grand Central Station, protesters staged “die-ins” lying on the ground of the busy travel terminal and chanting: “Eric Garner, Michael Brown. Shut it down, shut it down.”
In Berkeley, California, demonstrations protesters clashed with police who threw what appeared to be smoke bombs. Demonstrators threw rocks and other items in retaliation, and CNN reported that several businesses were damaged.
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