The 2014 shooting death of Akai Gurley sparked demonstrations by both supporters of former NYPD Officer Peter Liang and angry police-brutality protesters. Meanwhile, CPR training for cops — an issue raised at Liang’s trial — has stalled in Albany for years.
Briana Ojeda died at age 11 after an asthma attack suffered while playing in Caroll Park in Brooklyn. Her mother, Carmen Ojeda, was rushing her to the hospital in August 2010 when she was pulled over for driving in the wrong direction. The officer detained Ojeda and began to write a ticket. He declined to provide CPR himself, saying he didn’t know how, even though NYPD officers are trained in the technique.
At his trial earlier this year, Liang said he didn’t know how to perform CPR. Gurley died as Liang and his partner debated what to do next. Much of the anger toward Liang has been over his response, or lack thereof, after Gurley’s shooting. Liang’s partner was fired a day after a jury convicted Liang in the shooting.
The Ojeda family has fought for years to pass “Briana’s Law,” which would require cops and other first responders to be retrained every two years in CPR. The NYPD only trains officers in the academy, though it launched a probe into its CPR training methods after Liang’s trial.
“This year, I practically lost my business by being in Albany,” said Michael Ojeda, Briana’s father and the owner of a tow-truck company. “Not to save my daughter’s life but everyone else’s life.”
Since 2011, Briana’s Law bill has passed each year in the Assembly but not in the Senate. “I look at these senators . . . They don’t realize they’re gonna call 911 one day, but when [police] get there, they’re just gonna be looked at until EMS gets there. They don’t want to be saved?” he said.
Ojeda, who has three cousins who are police officers, says the lifesaving training is crucial as police-community relations are under scrutiny across the country. “With the way the community is at war with the police, wouldn’t the police want to be trained?”
Police unions are on board, he says. “I got a letter from [union leader] Pat Lynch saying that he needs this training for his officers.”
Ojeda, who has sued the city, compares some of the political stalling around Briana’s Law with that of the Zadroga Act, the law that provides health coverage for those who got sick trying to save lives after the Twin Towers fell. Reauthorization of the act was blocked by a Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate until comedian Jon Stewart, among others, shamed lawmakers into action.
With the falls of former power brokers Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, perhaps Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan can bring the bill to a vote. The Red Cross, which supports the bill, could run the training and testing. Officers themselves stand to benefit.
The Albany session is scheduled to end next week. With so much debate over policing, Briana’s Law should be a no-brainer. If police can be trained and retrained to shoot their guns, why can’t they be retrained to save lives? Pass the law already.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.