New York – Mourners heard a rallying cry for justice at the New York funeral of an unarmed black man shot dead by police as nationwide protests against similar killings continued for a fourth night.
Akai Gurley, 28, father of a two-year-old daughter, was shot dead when a police officer opened fire in a dimly lit staircase at a Brooklyn apartment building where he was walking with his girlfriend late on November 20.
Friends and relatives filed past Gurley’s open gray 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 was placed on top of it.
Gurley, whose mother lived in Florida, had been planning a surprise Thanksgiving trip to introduce her to his 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 mobilized 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.
Rev. Clinton Miller echoed the 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.
Gurley’s funeral comes amid nationwide protests across the United States against a spate of similar killings of unarmed black men by white police officers, including 18-year-old Michael Brown who was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9 and Eric Garner, a father of six who was killed in a chokehold by police in New York in July.
Protests continued Saturday with civil rights activist Al Sharpton’s National Action Network holding an event in Harlem attended by actor Spike Lee.
Other high-profile figures made statements, including Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who warmed up for an NBA game in a T-shirt bearing the words “I Can’t Breathe” on Saturday.
Those were the final words gasped by 43-year-old Garner, whom police wrestled to the ground in New York’s Staten Island for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
Protests continued in California and Washington, DC, where a main road and bridge was closed as rolling demonstrations moved through the city.
Elsewhere at New York’s Grand Central Station, protesters staged “die-ins” lying on the ground of the busy travel terminal and chanting “Eric Garner, Michael Brown. Shut it down, shut it down.”
In Berkeley, California, demonstrations turned violent as protesters clashed with police who threw what appeared to be smoke bombs. Demonstrators threw rocks and other items in retaliation, and CNN reported that several businesses were damaged.
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 younger brother, comforted by a relative.
A video montage included images of him as a toddler as well as a proud father holding his little 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.
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.
Instead it was a neighbor who phoned for the ambulance that rushed Gurley to the hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.