US & Canada

US grand jury to rule on fatal NYC shooting case

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Media captionLaura Westbrook reports: "Anger and outrage has spread from coast to coast"

A US grand jury will be asked to decide whether to prosecute a New York police officer over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Brooklyn.

Akai Gurley was shot in the chest after he entered the stairwell of his apartment building last month.

The decision comes days after a grand jury opted against charging a New York policeman in the chokehold death of another unarmed black man, Eric Garner.

The decision has sparked protests across the country.

The US was already facing race-related unrest over the decision not to indict a white police officer who had shot dead a young black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri.

In New York City on Friday, protesters briefly laid down in Macy's flagship store, at Grand Central Terminal and at an Apple store.

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Image caption Protesters staged a "die-in" at Macy's store in New York

Hundreds streamed along Fifth Avenue and other parts of Manhattan, with banners and chants of "Black lives matter" and "I can't breathe" - a reference to the words of Eric Garner as he was being restrained by a white police officer.

In other protests on Friday:

  • Activists marched through central Miami, Florida, and blocked a major causeway connecting Miami to Miami Beach
  • Hundreds of people in Providence, Rhode Island, blocked streets and police had to stop some from walking on to Interstate 95
  • Crowds of protesters in New Haven, Connecticut, marched to the courthouse
  • Dozens of students from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, brought rush-hour traffic to a crawl and forced the city to postpone a tree lighting ceremony scheduled at Monument Square
  • In Minneapolis, some protesters blocked traffic by marching or lying in the middle of a highway

Protests were also held in other US cities including Chicago, Washington, Denver, and Boston.

Meanwhile, a memorial service was held for 28-year-old Akai Gurley in New York ahead of his funeral on Saturday.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Candles have been left at the housing project where Akai Gurley was shot dead
Image copyright AP
Image caption Akai Gurley's partner Kimberly Ballinger, left, has been comforted by Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown
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Image caption Protests like this one in White Plains, New York, have been held across the US
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Image caption Tensions are running high in New York as protests continue
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Image caption Protesters are angry at the decision not to prosecute police officers

At an earlier news conference, his mother tearfully demanded justice for her son.

Speaking alongside her, Kevin Powell, president of the advocacy group BK Nation, called the shooting part of a "series of modern-day lynchings".

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Media captionEric Garner's daughter: "I will be happy when these cops... get what they deserve"

In announcing the grand jury - a body that determines whether to bring criminal charges - Brooklyn's District Attorney Ken Thompson said it was important to conduct a full and fair investigation.

Police say Mr Gurley and his girlfriend had opened a door into the unlit stairway and an inexperienced officer on a routine patrol fired his gun.

The medical examiner has ruled that the death is a homicide. New York Police Commissioner William Bratton called the shooting an accident.

Civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton had initially planned to speak at Mr Gurley's memorial service but later said he would pay his respects without making an address.

Akai Gurley

Image copyright Reuters
  • The 28-year-old father (daughter Akaila above) was killed in November in a Brooklyn apartment building as he walked with his girlfriend
  • He was shot by a rookie New York police officer
  • New York Police Commissioner William Bratton later said Gurley was a totally innocent victim
  • Gurley's family have demanded justice

UN human rights experts earlier expressed "legitimate concerns" about US grand juries failing to charge the two policemen involved in the deaths of Mr Garner and Mr Brown.

In a statement, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsak, said it was part of a broader "pattern of impunity" concerning minority victims.

Following the outcry over the Garner case, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city's 22,000-strong police force to be retrained in how to better communicate and remain calm when making arrests. They will also be fitted with body cameras.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the move and said "too many Americans feel deep unfairness" in how the laws were applied.

Activists have called for another march in Washington on 13 December, followed by a summit on civil rights.


of the US population is black

  • 28% of suspects arrested in the US in 2010 were black

  • 32% of people killed from 2003 to 2009 in arrest-related incidents were black

  • 42% of inmates on death row in 2012 were black