CLINTON HILL — With a mixture of grief and outrage, hundreds of mourners gathered at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church to remember Akai Gurley, the unarmed Brooklyn father shot dead by police in a building stairwell.
"When you hear laughter, that's Akai. When you see a smile, that's Akai," his father, Kenneth Palmer, said during the wake. "Sweet memories, my dear brothers and sisters, is all we have. Let us not forget. Peace be still."
Rookie officer Peter Liang, 27, who was on patrol in the Pink Houses, shot Gurley in an unlit stairwell in the East New York public housing project at 2724 Linden Blvd. on Nov. 20. Gurley had just finished getting his hair braided and was climbing the steps as the officer, who had his gun drawn, and his partner entered the stairwell.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton described Gurley after the shooting as a "total innocent."
"Who knew when he left my house at 7:16 that night, he was not returning. He told his daughter he would see her later, he would walk her to school, and he'll never return," his girlfriend Melissa Butler told mourners. "I want justice for Akai."
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said Friday that he would empanel a grand jury and conduct a "full and fair investigation" into the shooting.
The DA's announcement comes days after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict an NYPD officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, who was being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes in July.
Outrage over the grand jury decision sparked protests in New York and nationwide over excessive use of force by police. Anger over perceived police misconduct has gained momentum and sparked extended protest marches across the country after a Ferguson, Mo. grand jury failed to indict a police officer over the shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old Michael Brown.
Several New York politicians joined mourners at the Brooklyn church to extend their condolences.
"No parent should ever have to bury a child and no child should ever have to bury a father, especially under these circumstances," New York City Public Advocate Letitia James told the estimated 200 mourners in attendance. "Akai did not leave us, Akai was taken from us ... Also was struck by a bullet that should have never met him."
Rev. Al Sharpton and Gwen Carr, Garner's mother, were scheduled to attend, with the civil rights leader expected to deliver the eulogy, but because of a disagreement between Gurley's domestic partner and other family members they decided not to attend the service.
"After receiving information of an open dispute amongst the family of Akai Gurley, Rev. Al Sharpton and Mrs. Gwen Carr have decided that they will not attend the services tonight or tomorrow and they hope that the families work out whatever their disputes are between the domestic partner, mother and aunt, and will pursue justice as a united front," Sharpton said.
Kimberly Ballinger, the mother of Gurley's child, downplayed the rift and called for the public to focus on the grand jury.
"We want justice, I want an indictment," she said. "Not only for Akai, his daughter needs justice as well."