- Crowds accused authorities of ‘scapegoating’ Chinese-American cop
- Liang was convicted Feb 11 after shooting unarmed Akai Gurley in 2014
- But supporters say it was an accident and he was only convicted due to growing anger over police shootings
- Counter-protesters say the pro-Liang protest was an ‘insult’ to Gurley’s family
James Wilkinson For Daily Mail Online
00:00 EST, 21 February 2016
02:29 EST, 21 February 2016
A crowd of almost 15,000 people descended on Cadman Plaza, just outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, on Saturday to protest the manslaughter conviction of police officer Peter Liang, 28, after he fatally shot an unarmed black man in 2014.
Waving American flags and holding signs with slogans such as ‘No scapegoating’ and ‘No selective justice,’ among others, many of the protesters spoke out against what they saw as unfair treatment of a Chinese-American police officer.
They argued that Liang’s February 11 conviction for accidentally killing Akai Gurley, 28, with a stray bullet only occurred because he is a minority, and that it was intended to pacify those who are angry about other shootings of minorities by police in the US, which has been a hot topic over the past year.
Anger: Almost 15,000 gathered in Brooklyn on Saturday protesting the treatment of Chinese-American cop Peter Liang, who was convicted of manslaughter on February 11 after shooting an unarmed man in 2014
Tragedy: Liang admitted shooting Gurley but said it was an accident after his bullet ricocheted and hit the man. Protesters say this was a tragedy for both men
Two victims: A common theme among signs and banners was that both Liang and Gurley were victims, with some protesters recalling Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s speeches about race equality
Scapegoat: Protesters said Liang is a scapegoat to quell growing anger about police shootings of black men that resulted in white officers going free, and that a white officer would not receive the same treatment
Convicted: Liang (pictured) was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct on February 11. He will be sentenced on April 14. The prosecution argued that he should not have drawn his gun and that he did nothing to help Gurley after the shooting
Flags: Many protesters (left) waved American flags, emphasizing that they believe this is an issue affecting the country’s Asian-American community, but counter-protesters said they wanted justice for Gurley (right), and that Liang’s conviction was not scapegoating
‘No scapegoat! No scapegoat!’ protesters shouted, angry that Liang, who was fired immediately after a jury convicted him, now faces up to 15 years in prison. In court, Liang had testified that he had drawn his gun when entering a Brooklyn housing project and that he fired after being startled by a noise. His bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck Gurley, who subsequently died. Liang has never denied the killing, but says that it was an accident, not a crime.
That sentiment was echoed by a number of Brooklyn protesters who held up signs with pictures of Liang’s face and text that read ‘Tragedy not crime’ and ‘An accident is not a felony!’ One woman held a sign reading ‘One tragedy, two victims!’
One protester held up a sign with an image of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, and the caption ‘Dream for all Americans.’
Justice: Other protests were held in 30 cities around the country, with thousands marching in Philadelphia and San Francisco, and gatherings in Chicago, Dallas and Miami, among other locations
Justice: Liang’s lawyer said at the protest that he is making motions to have the verdict set aside
Placards: A sea of placards could be seen at the protest, which was organized by The ‘Coalition of Justice for Liang,’ a national group
Justice for all: Many protesters emphasized that they saw this as an issue of racial inequality
‘We’re here today to let people know that Chinese-Americans count as well,’ protester Don Lee, a candidate for New York’s state Assembly from lower Manhattan, told Associated Press. ‘It is a tragedy that Akai Gurley was shot and killed… But this tragedy’s been compounded by another tragedy, that Peter Liang, in an accident, is going to go to jail for up to 15 years.’
Liang was convicted on manslaughter and official misconduct charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14. His attorney, Robert Brown, attended the Brooklyn rally and said the community’s support was ‘very uplifting’ to Liang. He added that he is making motions to have the verdict set aside.
The Brooklyn protest was mirrored by similar gatherings in other cities: an estimated 5,000 people marched in downtown Philadelphia and thousands more rallied in San Francisco and Los Angeles’s Chinatowns, and other protests occurred at the Washington Monument and in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Miami. The ‘Coalition of Justice for Liang,’ the national group that organized the protests, said a total of 30 protests were held across the US.
Accident: Liang maintains that the shooting was an accident, and some signs reflected his remarks, saying ‘An accident is not a felony’
Bilingual: Many signs were presented in both Chinese and English, emphasizing the protesters’ Asian-American connections
Condolences: Many signs offered condolences to Gurley’s family, but still demanded justice for Liang
But not everyone was convinced that Liang was a victim of injustice: a few dozen people held a counter-protest across the street from the Brooklyn protest as officers with plastic handcuffs and batons stood between them.
At the trial, prosecutors said that Liang had recklessly drawn his gun, that he shouldn’t have had his finger on the trigger, and that he did nothing to help Gurley as he lay dying on the floor.
Soraya Soi Free was one of those counter-protesting. She said that Liang was tried by a jury of his peers, so he could not have been a scapegoat, and that she did not approve of the protest. ‘This protest is definitely an insult to Akai Gurley’s family,’ she said.
Gurney’s shooting occurred during a year of nationwide debate over police killings of black men. Activists have looked to Liang’s trial as a counterweight to cases in which grand juries have declined to indict officers, including the cases of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York. Like Gurley, Brown and Garner were black and unarmed.
Counter-protest: Another group formed a counter-protest over the road from the pro-Liang camp, demanding jail for what some of them described as ‘killer cops’
Division: Police formed a line between the two camps as the protests continued. The pro-Liang crowd outnumbered the counter-protest dramatically