On Tuesday a grand jury indicted NYPD Officer Peter Liang for shooting and killing Akai Gurley in a stairwell last November. Although the precise details of the shooting remain unclear, it appears Liang was on patrol as part of a “violence reduction overtime detail” and “accidentally discharged” his gun when Gurley opened a door into the stairway a floor below the officers. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton has described Gurley as a “total innocent."* The grand jury’s indictment will ensure that a jury of Liang’s peers will be permitted to judge the officer’s innocence following a fair trial.
Gurley was shot just days after a grand jury failed to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for choking Eric Garner to death, despite the fact that chokeholds are forbidden by the NYPD and the entire event was caught on camera. That result sparked a wave of outcry across the country against a justice system that seemed to be rigged in favor of the police and against black men. (Garner, like Gurley, was black.) Liang’s trial will inject a welcome dose of substance into America’s guarantee of due process. It remains exceedingly improbable, however, that a jury will actually find Liang guilty; police officers who shoot civilians are seldom sent to prison. It also seems unlikely that the NYPD will significantly curb incidents of police brutality so long as William Bratton—whose tactics lead ineluctably to an escalation in excessive force—remains in charge.
*Correction, Feb. 10, 2015: This post originally misstated whom Bratton described as a “total innocent.” It was Gurley, not Liang.