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For third night, protesters march against police killings

Brooklyn grand jury to hear case of police shooting that killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man

For the third night and despite bitter cold across much of the country, thousands of demonstrators marched in New York, Chicago, Washington and other cities Friday, protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer involved in the death of an unarmed black man on Staten Island.

In New York, thousands of people marched in midtown for hours in light rain. They walked in the middle of the street chanting: "Whose streets? Our streets!"

"If we don't have any control, they won't have any control," said 34-year-old accountant Danielle Carter.

"I think they definitely have to start listening now," Carter said. "We're not going anywhere."

Dozens of other protesters laid down in a peaceful “die-in” at Grand Central Terminal under the watchful eye of a squad of police officers.

Miami protesters streamed across Interstate 195, blocking the major thoroughfare for hours as part “Shut it down” rallies taking place across the county.

In Washington, protesters marched to several key intersections in the district and blocked traffic.

Protesters everywhere chanted what has become the rallying cry of the demonstrations: "I can't breathe!" "Hands up, don't shoot!" "Black lives matter!"

The demonstrations were sparked by the grand jury’s decision Wednesday not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a white officer, in the death of Eric Garner on July 17.

Pantaleo was caught on video applying what appeared to be a department-banned chokehold as Garner was wrestled to the ground.

That grand jury decision came after another grand jury in Missouri declined to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, who had shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man.

On Friday, Dist. Atty. Kenneth P. Thompson in New York announced that a Brooklyn grand jury would investigate New York Officer Peter Liang’s involvement in the shooting death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley in Brooklyn.

On Friday night, friends, family and supporters of Gurley’s gathered at Brown Memorial Baptist Church to mourn his death.

"Akai was struck by a bullet that never should've struck him," New York City public advocate Leticia James told the mourners.

Social justice will not be blocked in this case, James said.

"We must never stop fighting for justice," she said. "It's why we have protested peacefully, our hearts heavy and our handkerchiefs moist. We cannot rest until this sad and unjust chapter of our city's history is behind us."

Gurley's father, Kenneth Palmer, traveled to the wake from Florida. He said he had only happy memories of his son. "Anyone who knows Akai, knows Akai is laughter," he said.

In announcing the grand jury hearing, Thompson said the action was necessary.

“I expect to present evidence regarding the Nov. 20, 2014, shooting of Akai Gurley to a grand jury because it is important to get to the bottom of what happened,” Thompson said in a statement. “There is no timetable for the grand jury to be impaneled or for its determination to be reached. I pledge to conduct a full and fair investigation and to give the grand jury all of the information necessary to do its job. That information is still being gathered.”

Civil rights activists have called for special prosecutors to investigate police shootings. But in his statement, Thompson rejected that approach.

“As to those who have called for a special prosecutor to handle this case, I respectfully disagree. I was elected by the people of Brooklyn to do this job without fear or favor and that is exactly what I intend to do,” he said.

Gurley was killed Nov. 20 as he walked in a dark stairwell in the Louis H. Pink housing project with his girlfriend.

Liang, 27, was conducting a “vertical patrol,” in which he and his partner started at the roof and walked down the stairwells. Liang had his gun out and was opening a door in a stairwell when the gun went off. The shot hit Gurley, who had entered the stairwell one floor below.

Law enforcement officials have said they believe it was an accident.

In a news conference after the shooting, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton called it an “unfortunate tragedy” and said radio transmissions from the scene indicate Liang fired his gun accidentally.

“It appears to be an accidental discharge, with no intention to strike anybody,” Bratton told reporters.

He said that though officers are given the discretion to decide whether to draw their gun while patrolling, "an officer would have to justify the circumstances" under which he unholstered his firearm.

Gurley, Bratton said, was a “total innocent” who “was not engaged in any activity other than trying to walk down the stairwell.”

Charles Barron, who served on the New York City Council and was recently elected to the state Assembly, has told reporters that he didn't believe the shooting was accidental.

"People are outraged, this is happening all over the country, people have no respect for black life," Barron told The New York Times. "I want to hear the justification for this one."

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

6:18 p.m. - This post was updated throughout with information on protests across the country.

 

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