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Mourning Turns To Protest At Brooklyn Victim's Funeral

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

New York City had a third night of protest last night after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. Mr. Garner died after being held in a chokehold by police who were attempting to arrest him. Demonstrators blocked traffic, chanted and held up signs that called for justice. Today, there is a funeral for another unarmed, black man who was killed by a police officer last month. NPR's Jeff Brady joins us from Brooklyn. Jeff, thanks for being with us.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Yes.

SIMON: Where are you? What's can - what's going on?

BRADY: I am outside Brown Memorial Baptist Church. That's in Brooklyn. And it's raining pretty heavily. You can probably hear in the background. This is where the funeral for Akai Gurley is taking place. He was killed by a police officer who was patrolling a housing project in Brooklyn. And this is a traditional funeral. I was able to duck inside, everyone dressed in black, the family sitting up front. They've been mostly composed through the service. They seem to want to send a message that they're remaining strong here.

There was a point where Akai Gurley's little brother had some difficulty reading a poem. He just had trouble getting through without crying. The overall message here seems to be that people are just hoping that something good comes of his death. And justice is a frequent word that we're hearing.

There was one point where an older, black man interrupted the service. He just started shouting nothing ever happens. And it hurts. People came over and tried to comfort him, but he started shouting even louder. And people came over and comforted him. And eventually, he calmed down. But lots of tears and hugs here.

SIMON: Akai Gurley was 28 years old. And reportedly, a police officer shot him in a stairwell a little over a couple of weeks ago. What do we know about the circumstance?

BRADY: Right. It happened late on November 20. Two police officers were conducting patrols in the kind of a high-crime neighborhood, a public housing building. There was some sort of encounter in a dark stairwell. A young, relatively new officer pulled a gun, and Gurley was killed with a shot to his chest. Police admit it was a mistake. It doesn't appear that Akai Gurley was doing anything wrong or threatening anyone. He was just walking down the stairs. But, again, exactly what happened isn't clear. The police say that it looks like it was an accident. And now Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson says he intends to put the case before a grand jury by the end of the month.

SIMON: And what are some of the people who've been attending the funeral there, inside the family and outside the family, people of the community saying today?

BRADY: That word justice just keeps coming up and people saying they hope something comes of Akai Gurley's death. I talked with one of his friends. She said he was fun and outgoing and that he really helped her get through a lonely period in her life. And she was another of those who mentioned the word justice. And then folks got a little political too 'cause of course this is a big issue for the country right now. And there's been a lot of talk about police need more training. And one man told me, this is not a training issue, this is a relationship issue and that a lot of hard work needs to be done on both sides to improve that relationship between black men and police.

SIMON: And more protests, gatherings at night anticipated from what you've heard?

BRADY: It looks like we're going to see more protests. This afternoon at 3 o'clock, there's going to be another at that public housing project where Akai Gurley was killed.

SIMON: NPR's Jeff Brady in Brooklyn, New York. Thanks very much for being with us, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.