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Mourners Decry Police Shooting Of Akai Gurley In Brooklyn


Mourners filled a church in Brooklyn last night for the wake of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man who was killed by a police officer last month. That remembrance took place as demonstrations continued across the country. For three straight nights, crowds have blocked traffic, chanting and holding signs that call for justice to protest the decision of a grand jury earlier this week not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. He died after being held in an apparent chokehold by police attempting to arrest him. Many of those who attended the wake for Akai Gurley, in Brooklyn last night, see his killing as fitting into a pattern of police conduct. Stephen Nessen, of member nation WNYC, reports.

STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: Outside the 150-year-old Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn a line of strangers, united in their grief for 28-year-old Akai Gurley, wait in the rain for the body to be brought in. Pallbearers hoist the silver-colored coffin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Three on each side.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Walking while black, standing while black.

NESSEN: Some people in line call out in frustration.

SELINA FULFORD: America, stop killing your citizens.

NESSEN: Selina Fulford doesn't know the family, but came down from Harlem to attend the wake. The mother of two, with three grandchildren, presses an American flag and a red, black and green Pan-African flag against the hearse.

FULFORD: We are all one big family. We are all Americans. We're black America, and if not my son today it might be my son tomorrow.

NESSEN: Unlike Eric Garner's death, which was captured on video in broad daylight, Akai Gurley was shot in a dark stairwell in a public housing complex by a rookie officer. The New York Police Department believes the shooting was accidental, but is investigating the incident. The Brooklyn district attorney is impaneling a grand jury to look into it. And that makes 38-year-old teacher Zakiyyih Ali, who's also attending the wake, hopeful that in this case the officer will be charged with a crime.

ZAKIYYIH ALI: Of course I'm optimistic. I'm a black person in this country and I've seen that this world can change and it is going to change and so it's just going to take some vigilance. My ancestors did it. They did it in the '60s and now it's my turn.

NESSEN: She's attended the nightly protests and plans to hit the streets again after the wake.

ALI: I'm going to look oppression in its face and say not on my watch. You have to stop doing this. It's not OK. It's not acceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) There is power...

NESSEN: Inside the church the viewing has begun. More than a hundred people - local black leaders, family and friends - have formed a line wrapping around pews and down the aisle. The brim of Gurley's black baseball hat pokes out of the coffin. After the wake, one of Gurley's childhood friends - 37-year-old Omar Franklin - is distraught. He shakes his head and says even the promised retraining of all NYPD officers won't change anything.

OMAR FRANKLIN: Honestly, in the eyes of the NYPD, we criminal even when we innocent.

NESSEN: A rally for Gurley is being held in Brooklyn after his funeral today. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Nessen in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Nessen