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Prosecutor Filings Detail Fatal Stairwell Shooting by NYPD

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Men gather outside of the building where a man was allegedly shot by a police officer the night before at the Louis Pink Houses public housing complex, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, in Brooklyn borough of New York.  A rookie police officer with his gun drawn shot to death 28-year-old Akai Gurley, an unarmed, innocent man in the darkened stairwell of the crime-ridden public housing complex, New York City police officials said Friday.  The shooting appeared to be an accident, Police Commissioner William Bratton said at a news conference.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Men gather outside of the building where a man was allegedly shot by a police officer the night before at the Louis Pink Houses public housing complex, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, in Brooklyn borough of New York. A rookie police officer with his gun drawn shot to death 28-year-old Akai Gurley, an unarmed, innocent man in the darkened stairwell of the crime-ridden public housing complex. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

MICHAEL BALSAMO, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A rookie police officer was arguing with his partner over who should call their supervisor in the chaotic moments after he’d accidentally fired his gun into a darkened stairwell of a public housing complex, and he did nothing to help when he discovered later that he’d mortally wounded an unarmed man, the prosecution says in court papers.

Officer Peter Liang is charged with manslaughter in the Nov. 20 death of Akai Gurley in the Louis Pink Houses in Brooklyn. He has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer notes the shooting was an accident.

Prosecution motions released Tuesday gave these details:

Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were on patrol on the eighth floor of one of the buildings at about 11 p.m. when they walked into the stairwell.

Liang held his flashlight over his head and had his Glock pistol pointed directly in front of him when he started to walk down the stairs. His partner was still in the hallway when he heard a gunshot. At the same time, Gurley and his girlfriend, Melissa Butler, were on the landing of the staircase below. The bullet had bounced off a wall before striking Gurley. The couple managed to get down several flights of stairs before Gurley collapsed.

Liang ran out of the staircase and his partner, using an expletive, asked what happened.

“It went off by accident,” Liang said, then repeatedly exclaimed he would be fired.

The two stood in the hallway and argued for several minutes about who should call their supervisor to report gunshot and what phone should be used.

“You call,” Liang told his partner.

“No, you call,” Landau said.

But no one called. Instead, Landau went into the stairwell, searching the walls for bullet holes, but soon heard a “grunting noise” coming from the floors below. When he reached the fifth floor, he saw Gurley’s body and Butler kneeling over him, tears pouring down her face.

By then, Butler was on the phone with a 911 operator, who was trying to walk her through performing CPR as the officers stood nearby.

“Neither defendant nor Officer Landau provided any medical care to Mr. Gurley. Nor did they summon an ambulance,” prosecutors wrote in the court filing. Instead, the two of them walked around Gurley’s body to the landing on the fourth floor.

It was nearly 20 minutes after the shooting when the officers radioed to report “an accidental fire.”

Liang was later indicted on charges including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, official misconduct and assault. Prosecutors said he disregarded his training and should not have had his gun drawn nor his finger on the trigger.

Liang pleaded not guilty in February and is currently free without bail.

His attorney Stephen Worth, who had tried to get the court to dismiss the indictment, said Tuesday, “We wish the judge would have taken a more intensive look at the grand jury presentation. We believe it was not a fair presentation for officer Liang.”

The case was closely watched following the Dec. 3 grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was arrested on Staten Island. That decision — along with a grand jury’s refusal to charge a white officer in the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old — prompted mass protests decrying the grand jury system as biased. Liang, 27, is Asian; Gurley, 28, was black.

On Tuesday, New York took a step to give such cases special consideration by appointing the attorney general to investigate them, at least for a year. Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who presented evidence to the grand jury against Liang, has opposed the idea.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Danny Chun ruled that evidence presented to the grand jury was legally sufficient to support manslaughter charges against the officer. Liang is due back in court in September.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activism

Greater Justice is Coming: Taking on Abusive and Deadly Policing with New DOJ Leadership

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta

Thanks to the voters who elected President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we now have a Department of Justice that actually cares about justice.

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

In his first month on the job, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed a Trump-era policy that made it harder for the Justice Department to investigate police departments and hold them accountable for violating people’s civil rights.

And he was just getting started. In the past few weeks, the Justice Department has announced that it is starting an investigation of the police departments in Minneapolis—where George Floyd was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin while other officers watched. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has called the city’s police union a white supremacist-led organization.

The Justice Department has also launched an investigation of policing practices in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own home.

These investigations will look at more than those individual killings. This kind of “patterns and practices” investigation looks at the big picture to determine whether and how a law enforcement agency is violating people’s civil rights. They are a way to evaluate—and do something about—the impact that systemic racism has in a police department and the communities it is supposed to serve.

“Patterns and practices” investigations can lead to consent decrees — agreements that require police departments to change the way they operate, with oversight from the Justice Department to make sure change actually happens.

In the past, Justice Department investigations and consent decrees have been important tools for getting violent police behavior under control and changing abusive cultures in out-of-control departments.

When the Trump Administration shut down this kind of investigation, it sent a signal to police departments that the Justice Department would look the other way rather than hold them responsible for misconduct. Of course, Trump himself repeatedly made it clear that he was not opposed to violent policing. In fact, he encouraged it.

Biden has spoken personally about the importance of ending police violence and reimagining public safety. He has called on Congress to pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Another good sign was the announcement that the FBI is doing a civil rights investigation of the killing of Andrew Brown, Jr., who was shot in the back of the head by police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

All of these are important steps in protecting Americans, especially Black Americans, from abusive policing.

Biden has also spoken out against Republicans’ racist efforts to pass new voting restrictions in states all over the country. Biden has called those efforts “sick” and we can count on his Justice Department to do what they can to challenge voter suppression—even though right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have greatly weakened the tools that the Voting Rights Act gave the department to prevent Black voters from having their rights denied.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has just written the Arizona Senate president to raise concerns that a bogus “audit” of ballots from last year’s presidential election that is being conducted by private contractors from the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement could be violating the Voting Rights Act.

There are more signs that we can expect changes at the Justice Department. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate, started her career as a civil rights attorney by winning freedom for dozens of mostly Black people wrongly jailed in a small Texas town.   And the Senate should soon confirm Kristen Clarke to head the civil rights division, where she started her legal career investigating police conduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking.

Together with Biden and Garland, Gupta and Clarke will save lives, defend civil rights, and give millions of Americans hope that greater justice is coming.

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Bay Area

Asian/Black Relations Can Get Better Together During Heritage Month

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

President Joe Biden has given May a new name. It’s no longer Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Obama in 2009.  And it’s definitely not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, as proclaimed by Biden on the last day of April this year. 

That’s our new umbrella. A big one, incorporating everyone. From the East Bay’s Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne the Rock, an African American/Samoan American. To Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, a/k/a H.E.R., the African American Filipino of Grammy- Oscar-winning- songs fame.

Despite how huge the umbrella is incorporating more than 23 million people from more than 20 countries of origin, we are all American. And we’re the fastest-growing group in the nation, set to double in size, overtake the Latinx population and, with 46 million people, become the largest ethnic group in America by 2060. 

And so we’ve come to expect people seeking to divide us up. During a Zoom conference of attorneys general last week, a member of the audience had a question. “There seems to be an emphasis on attributing anti-Asian violence to white people,” said a white male to the panel. “And I’m just wondering if it is healthy to do that, or an effort to do that…when in some incidents, the attacks were committed by non-white people.”

Essentially, the man was saying, “Don’t blame white people,” implying that Blacks have often been perps in some high profile crimes against Asians. 

But it seemed more like a question to drive a wedge to break up our solidarity.

Fortunately, civil rights activists John Yang knew exactly how to answer that one. 

“Yes, there have been attacks on Asian Americans by people that are not white, no question about that,” he said. “But I would ask everyone to be really, really careful about what the actual statistics are, because the statistics show that the predominant number of people attacking Asians are Caucasian.” Then he referred to some high-profile cases in the Bay Area where Blacks attacked elderly Asians, once again pointing out it was the exception, not the norm.

It was the right response to avoid creating divisiveness and to let everyone know that the only way to end racism is to fight it together.

But he also said something that rang true to most Asian Americans. 

“Let’s be clear, there (are) elements of anti-Blackness in the Asian American community, that we do need to unlearn as well,” he said. Then he made it personal. “And that’s something that I’m going to call out on myself, and in our community, and we would ask everyone to do the same thing as we’re all learning together.”

It was a rare candid public moment that unveiled a sense of friction between Asian and Black communities that has existed since the days I wrote op-ed pieces in the 1990s in the Tribune. 

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

Like the speaker said, a lot of it involves calling out where we have fallen short of the ideal.

That’s what Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is really for—to learn the good, and unlearn the bad, together. 

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Bay Area

Newsom Announces New Round of Stimulus Checks, Budget Surplus of Nearly $76 Billion

If approved by the Legislature, the $600 payments announced Monday would go to income-eligible taxpayers who did not receive the first stimulus payment as well as additional $500 payments to families with dependents and families living in the state without legal permission.

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California residents who made up to $75,000 last year would be eligible for a $600 stimulus check under a budget proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined Monday in Oakland.

     In a briefing at the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, Newsom said the state would spend some $12 billion on the payments, made possible by a projected general fund surplus of $75.7 billion. 

     Roughly $38 billion in total from that surplus would be used for pandemic relief programs like the stimulus checks, $5.2 billion to assist low-income renters pay off their back rent and $2 billion to help residents pay off unpaid utility bills. 

     “We think this is a significant, direct not only stimulus, but direct relief to millions and millions of Californians in need,” Newsom said.

     The state sent out initial $600 stimulus payments earlier this year as part of Newsom’s initial budget proposal in January.

     Those payments, which the Legislature approved in February, were targeted at residents who made less than $30,000 in 2020, received the California earned-income tax credit or filed their taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number. 

     Just as with those initial payments, the $600 checks Newsom announced Monday would be dispersed to state residents regardless of their immigration status, as people living in the U.S. without legal permission were not eligible for the three federal stimulus payments issued over the last 15 months.

     If approved by the Legislature, the $600 payments announced Monday would go to income-eligible taxpayers who did not receive the first stimulus payment as well as additional $500 payments to families with dependents and families living in the state without legal permission.

     “I love saying Oakland, California, is the most unapologetic sanctuary city in America,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said at the briefing. “I also commend Gov. Gavin Newsom for recognizing that our immigrant workers will be taken care of by the state of California.”

     The funding to assist with unpaid rent and utilities, Newsom said, is part of an effort to pay off all back rent owed in the state as a result of the pandemic. 

    The governor noted that the results of studies on the amount of back rent owed in the state have varied between $2.5 billion and north of $5 billion, but the proposal sets aside $5.2 billion for back rent out of “an abundance of caution.”

      Newsom is expected to tease out other portions of his May budget proposal revision this week before unveiling the full proposal on Friday.

     Newsom and the state legislature will then have until June 15 to approve the budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. 

   

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