Whole System is Guilty as Hell
Last week, the District Attorney for Brooklyn, New York, recommended that the cop who was convicted in the death of Akai Gurley not spend a single day in prison, but, instead, serve five years probation, six months on home confinement, and do 500 hours of community service. The cop’s lawyer called the DA’s decision “courageous.” Members of the city’s Chinese American community had packed the trial, demanding that former officer Peter Liang be acquitted of negligent manslaughter charges for shooting Gurley as the unarmed 28 year-old father walked in the darkened stairwell of a public housing apartment building with his girlfriend. Liang’s supporters argued that he would not have faced charges at all, if he had been white.
District Attorney Ken Thompson, a Democrat, the son of a cop, and the first Black to be elected as top prosecutor for Brooklyn, justified his recommendation of leniency, saying there was “no evidence” that Liang intended to kill Akai Gurley, and that Liang was not a danger to the community—despite the fact that he had already killed a law abiding member of the community.
Akai Gurley’s family was outraged. They said District Attorney Thompson’s recommendation “sends the message that police officers who kill people should not face serious consequences.” At least some of the jurors that convicted the cop agreed. One asked, “What was the point of prosecuting him? If something is wrong, you shouldn’t get a slap on the wrist.” Another juror said the DA’s call for leniency was “ridiculous,” and confided to the Daily News that his own father had spent seven years in prison for accidentally shooting a friend.
However, the only Black person on the jury, a 69 year-old man, said the prosecutor was only “doing his job.”
The person who will have the final say in the case is Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, who is scheduled to sentence Liang on April 14. Before he was appointed to the court, Chun, a Korean American, was a prosecutor.
The Brooklyn DA’s decision means that, even when a police officer is convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of an unarmed and totally non-threatening Black man, in a trial in which the chief prosecutor is Black, the chances of meaningful punishment are slim, because impunity for police is built into the system. No matter the weight of the evidence, Black lives don’t really matter in the U.S. criminal justice system. So inconsequential was the life of Akai Gurley, that Chinese Americans believed that Officer Liang was entitled to the same impunity—the same free pass—in the death of a Black man, as a white cop could expect to get.
Ken Thompson, the Black prosecutor, clearly feels the same way. He is a career Democratic politician whose allegiance is to the party and the system that appointed him, not to Black people, and certainly not to any notions of justice. His job, as he saw it, was to prevent the jury from dispensing justice, to turn loose a killer cop—because he is a killer prosecutor and, as Akai Gurley’s supporters said throughout the trial, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”
—Black Agenda Report, March 29, 2016