Calls for justice at funeral of man killed by New York police

Family members of Akai Gurley attend his funeral service at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church on Dec 6, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Gurley was an unarmed 28-year-old man killed by New York City police officer Peter Liang in a housi
Family members of Akai Gurley attend his funeral service at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church on Dec 6, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Gurley was an unarmed 28-year-old man killed by New York City police officer Peter Liang in a housing development in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn on Nov 20. -- PHOTO: AFP 

NEW YORK (AFP) - Mourners heard a rallying cry for justice Saturday at the New York funeral of an unarmed black man shot dead by police amid a wave of nationwide protests against similar killings.

Akai Gurley, 28, a father of a young daughter, was shot dead when a police officer opened fire in a dimly lit staircase at a Brooklyn apartment building as he walked with his girlfriend late on Nov 20.

Friends and relatives filed past Gurley's open casket to pay their respects at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church, before the lid was closed and a huge spray of red and white flowers placed on top of the gray coffin.

Gurley, whose mother lived in Florida, had been planning a surprise Thanksgiving trip to introduce her to his young daughter last month when he was killed.

Activist Kevin Powell, who delivered the eulogy, thanked Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city of New York for covering the costs of the funeral and issued a passionate rallying cry for change.

"Akai was innocent, innocent, innocent," he told the mourners.

"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 mobilised thousands of people across the United States 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.

Reverend Clinton Miller echoed the same call, saying that clergy and activists would work together to ensure that justice would prevail.

"We ask that you would allow brother Akai's name to live forever in our hearts as we continue to fight for what's right in this country and this world," he said.

"We will all work together to pursue justice."

The Brooklyn district attorney announced Friday that a grand jury would consider charges in one of the cases that has again brought to the fore the distrust felt by many African-Americans towards the police.

Saturday's funeral included music from gospel singers, accompanied by a drummer and keyboard player, as well as the reading of a poem by Gurley's sobbing young brother, comforted by a relative.

A video montage of his life was shown from when he was a toddler to a proud father carrying his young daughter and pointing to the camera grinning.

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.

Protests continued on Saturday with civil rights activist Al Sharpton's National Action Network holding an event in Harlem attended by actor Spike Lee.

On Friday, thousands of demonstrators marched in US cities for a third consecutive night to condemn a grand jury decision not to charge the white officer in the July 17 chokehold death of black father-of-six Eric Garner in New York.

New York protesters shouted "I can't breathe" - the final words gasped by the 43-year-old man who police wrestled to the ground in New York's Staten Island for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

A coroner's report ruled Garner's death a "homicide" after police held him in a chokehold.

Similar protests after a grand jury decision not to prosecute the white officer who shot dead unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug 9 triggered riots as well as peaceful protests.

On Friday, demonstrators staged "die-ins," by lying on the ground at Columbia University, Grand Central Station and after pouring into Macy's flagship store in Herald Square and the Apple store on Fifth Avenue.

Further protests took place in Washington DC, Miami, Chicago, Boston and New Orleans.

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.

A neighbour instead phoned for the ambulance that rushed Gurley to the hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.