Cries of “no justice no peace; no racist police” and “hands up to the sky; we doing this for Akai” rang out across the rainy New Haven Green on Saturday afternoon.
A group of approximately 40 Connecticut residents, Yale students and members of 28-year-old Akai Gurley’s family gathered to protest Gurley’s shooting, which occurred at the hands of New York Police Department Officer Peter Liang on Nov. 20, 2014 in Brooklyn. The rally was organized by the local racial justice nonprofits ANSWER Coalition CT, Black Lives Matter New Haven and Moral Monday CT. Liang’s weapon discharged in a dark stairwell and ricocheted off a wall, fatally striking Gurley, who was walking through with his girlfriend, in the chest. Liang was subsequently convicted of second-degree manslaughter and is set to be sentenced on April 14. New York District Attorney Kenneth Thompson recommended against jail time for Liang on March 28. New Haven social justice protestors mobilized in support of Gurley and his family, highlighting that Gurley’s death is part of a broader epidemic of police brutality to which New Haven is no stranger.
“I think a lot of people in a lot of different communities throughout the country can relate to the injustice that happened in the Akai Gurley case,” ANSWER member Iv Staklo said. “When a cop kills someone in cold blood who is unarmed and did absolutely nothing and they get off with probation, to a lot of people that is a real manifestation of how the system works against them.”
Gurley’s aunt, Hertencia Petersen, who was also present at the rally, said she is especially outraged by the way Liang behaved after he shot Gurley. Peterson said Liang and Shaun Landau, an officer who was also present during Gurley’s shooting, prioritized finding the bullet casing over administering CPR to Gurley or consoling his girlfriend. Peterson — a New Jersey resident who over the past 18 months has attended over 200 protests surrounding Gurley’s death in the tri-state area — added that neither Liang nor Landau have personally apologized to her family.
Community members and organizers took turns speaking and leading the crowd in chants. Attendees held signs that read “Stop The War On Black America” and “Fists Up Fight Back,” as well as a banner with the names of people who have lost their lives in police shootings.
Norman Clement, an organizer with ANSWER Coalition, said he could have filled 10 more banners with the names of other victims of police brutality.
Clement said that although the New Haven Police Department has not been the focal point of any high-profile unauthorized shootings, the department still criminalizes and harasses people of color and those from low-income backgrounds.
“This system isn’t broken. This system is working exactly the way they want it to work,” he said. Just last year, a Yale Police officer forced Tahj Blow ’16, an African-American student, to the ground at gunpoint, inducing the police department to launch an internal investigation and confront allegations of racial profiling. The New Haven Police Department could not be reached for comment.
Sebi Medina-Tayac ’16, a member of the Yale Native American Cultural Center, spoke at the rally about the importance of intersectionality in fighting for racial justice. He explained that not every person of color faces the same injustices at the hands of the police but said it is still important for all marginalized groups to come together and support each other.
“I’m out here not because I face this struggle because when the police look at me, they don’t see what they saw when they saw Akai in that stairwell that day, and that is a great privilege that has been given to me by this racist system,” said Medina-Tayac, who is a staff reporter for the News. “The Native community is fighting alongside everyone for justice for Akai and for justice for everyone who has been victimized by this occupying force, this colonial force.”
Bishop John Selders, the founder and an organizer for Moral Monday CT — a religiously based racial justice movement — stated that more black people are in prison now than were ever enslaved in America. He said he hopes community action can create the political space for change.
Correction, Apr. 4: A previous version article incorrectly states that banners at the rally displayed the names of New Haven residents who have died in police shootings. In fact, the banners displayed the names of victims from across the nation.