Cautious de Blasio Continues to Demur on Akai Gurley Case

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images) (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio again tiptoed carefully around commenting on the news that a Brooklyn grand jury indicted NYPD Officer Peter Liang in the killing of an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley—even as he defended his more passionate reaction to the non-indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the homicide of African-American Staten Islander Eric Garner.

Speaking to the press after an unrelated event at the Ford Foundation in Manhattan, Mr. de Blasio coolly reiterated his remarks last night about allowing the justice system to decide if Mr. Liang committed any crime when he discharged his gun in the darkened stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing building last November and fatally shot the Gurley in the chest.

“The only we know for sure is there was a human tragedy involving Mr. Gurley. He’s gone,” Mr. de Blasio said. “That’s a fact, that’s a tragedy. But everything else has to be determined through the judicial process. We can’t act like we know the facts until that process plays out.”

It was a note the mayor steadfastly held, even when pressed to remark on how the public—particularly the black community—might feel upon seeing an indictment in the Gurley case, but not that of Garner.

“I don’t comment on the specifics of the judicial process, I don’t think that’s my place,” he said, adding that the police department is conducting its own investigation into the incident. “And I think it’s important for people to see each case as individual and watch the entire play out of all the pieces, what happens in the judicial process, what happens in the NYPD in some cases, or maybe the federal process as well. And that’s how you can determine in the end how the process works, is see how all the pieces play out.”

He also maintained that Mr. Liang remains innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to a full trial.

Such a reserved approach contrasts with the emotionally charged tone Mr. de Blasio employed after Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced that Mr. Pantaleo would not face criminal charges in December. The mayor refrained then from explicitly criticizing the grand jury in that case, but called the announcement “painful.”

“So many people in the city are feeling pain right now, and we’re grieving again over the loss of Eric Garner, who was a father, a husband, a son, a good man—a man who should be with us and isn’t. That pain, that simple fact, is felt again so sharply today,” he said in remarks delivered at the Mt. Sinai United Christian Church on Staten Island.

The mayor then went on to discuss how he and his wife Chirlane McCray had warned their biracial son Dante about the potential dangers he might face from police. Such rhetoric provoked police union heads to assert Mr. de Blasio had “blood” on his hands after the murders of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos a few weeks later at the hands of a man who claimed on social media he sought to avenge the deaths of Garner and Ferguson, Mo. teen Michael Brown.

Mr. de Blasio defended his more expansive response to the Staten Island grand jury’s decision, even as he refused to reprise it. He argued that the Garner death was unique because it was captured on a widely watched recording.

“That day was absolutely painful for so many people because we watched this man die on video tape. And I can’t think of any situation previously that was quite as searing, and a lot of people felt a great sense of loss,” he said. “People across all races and backgrounds watched a man die who very clearly should not have died. So I think that was a moment of particular pain that it was important to address. And now we’re moving forward.”

Cautious de Blasio Continues to Demur on Akai Gurley Case