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Family holds funeral for Akai Gurley, man fatally shot by rookie NYPD cop in Brooklyn stairwell

The coffin holding Akai Gurley, the Brooklyn man

The coffin holding Akai Gurley, the Brooklyn man shot by an NYPD officer, is carried out of Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2014 following Gurley's funeral. His mother, stepfather and younger brother are following behind. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Akai Gurley, whom an NYPD officer fatally shot last month in what authorities described as an accident, was remembered at his funeral Saturday as a father and dancer in a church group -- and the latest symbol of black men killed by police.

Kevin Powell, president and co-founder of the activist group BK Nation, eulogized Gurley before about 100 people at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood.

"They're saying it was accidental," said Powell, the family's adviser, vowing to secure justice for Gurley's family. "Akai was murdered."

"Like Eric Garner, like Michael Brown, the life of another black man -- gone . . . ," he said, referring to others recently killed by police. "We want a full investigation. We believe homicide charges should be brought . . . this was a reckless disregard for the lives of black and brown people in this country in spite of a black president in the White House . . . This is modern-day lynchings over and over again. Akai Gurley was simply the latest victim."

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson has announced plans for a grand jury investigation in the case.

Gurley, 28, father of a 2-year-old girl, was shot on Nov. 20 in a darkened stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn.

Investigators said rookie Officer Peter Liang was on patrol and holding his weapon in his left hand, which may have been jostled as he opened a stairwell door; and the shot he fired that killed Gurley may have ricocheted off a stairwell wall.

Liang has been placed on modified duty, without his badge and gun.

The service for Gurley began about 11 a.m. with family members entering the church and passing the open gray coffin, which was flanked by red and white flowers. The obituary distributed at the service noted that Gurley started a lawn service business as a teen, dabbled in plumbing and belonged to a church dance group.

Gurley's mother, Sylvia Palmer, and his domestic partner, Kimberly Ballinger, kissed his face before the coffin was closed. A photo montage played on a screen near the coffin. A picture of him making a silly face as a young boy elicited laughs.

The Rev. Clinton M. Miller, senior pastor at Brown Memorial, said Gurley's death has impacted his family -- and strangers nationwide, causing "pain . . . for many of us."

A representative of the National Action Network attended the funeral, but not its president, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Powell said. Asked about reports that Sylvia Palmer did not want Sharpton there, Powell said, "The family simply wanted a dignified and simple funeral."

Powell and other speakers thanked Sharpton by name at the service. Powell said he's willing to work with anyone to win justice for Gurley's family.

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