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Guilty verdict in Gurley case is good for New York

By Leroy Gadsden

The verdict is in. The jury has spoken loud and clear. On Feb. 11, in Brooklyn, history was made when a jury convicted a police officer of killing Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the Gurley family, and we hope they can find some relief in seeing justice rendered.

It is fitting that this verdict was rendered on the eve of the 107th anniversary of the NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the world. Although we do not take joy in this verdict, we do welcome a refreshing and unfamiliar taste of justice. It is unfortunate that a black man had to lose his life in the process. A mother lost her son, a daughter lost her father, and a community lost a young black man with unlimited potential. A young officer lost his career and potentially his freedom.

There are those in the law enforcement profession who wanted to exonerate this officer in his role in the killing of Mr. Gurley. We believe that he should be held accountable for his actions, and thankfully in the pursuit of justice, the jury also felt that way. But we are not satisfied. We have more work to do in the pursuit of police reform and accountability.

Contrary to the police union’s argument, this guilty verdict is good for the City of New York. This verdict brings about a partial restoration of faith and trust in the justice system among those who have seen justice denied time and time again. The verdict sends a message that no one is above the law and no one is beneath the law, and that yes, “Black Lives Matter.” One verdict will not eradicate or mend the widening gap between the police and the minority community, but it is a start.

This shooting and trial revealed the feelings harbored by some police officers toward minority communities. First, the trial highlighted an unmerited preconceived notion of fear, disrespect and mistrust of people of color. In the aftermath of the shooting, NAACP Branch Presidents Lynn Spivey and L. Joy Williams, along with Intern Imani Hendrix and I visited the scene of the killing at the Pink Houses. We, like the jury, did not experience a dangerous environment that would cause a police officer to walk around with his finger on the trigger.

Secondly, disturbing trial testimony revealed that after the shooting both officers stepped over a mortally wounded black man without making any attempts to assist or render aid to him.

Third, we noticed that throughout the trial, Officer Liang failed to apologize to Mr. Gurley’s mother, daughter, friends or family members for the killing of their loved one. A simple apology was in order.

We must be mindful of the fact, and express to the community, that these officers’ actions do not represent the actions of those professional officers who patrol our communities on a daily basis under some of the harshest conditions without firing a shot from their weapons.

We long for the day when their professional actions will be emulated by all police officers nationwide.

We must do our part during this voting season to educate the non-voters in our community that this verdict of justice was not brought on by osmosis or just a happening of circumstances, but there is a direct correlation between this verdict and the power of the vote. This verdict originated with Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson, who was elected two years ago by the registered voters of Kings County. Voting matters and we must continue to tell it everywhere we go.

In the words of one of our slain NAACP leaders (Vernon Dahmer) on his death bed, “if you don’t vote, you don’t count.”

Leroy Gadsden

President, NAACP, Jamaica Branch

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