Peter Liang (left), who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting Akai Gurley (right), appears in court on Feb. 11. Photo: AP
The Chinese community across the US is mobilizing more than 10,000 people for a nationwide rally on February 20 to protest against a Brooklyn Supreme Court conviction of a Chinese-American police officer for killing a man during a patrol, calling the verdict unfair.
NYPD officer Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct on February 11 for fatally shooting an unarmed black man during a routine patrol in a pitch-dark stairwell at the crime-ridden Louis Pink Houses project in East New York on the night of November 20, 2014.
Liang claimed that the gun went off inadvertently. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit 28-year-old Akai Gurley who died in minutes. Liang now faces up to 15 years in prison when he’s sentenced on April 14.
Liang’s partner Shaun Landau, a white American, was fired from force but faced no charges. The Chinese-American community was angered by the conviction and said that Liang was being made a scapegoat.
It was the first time in a decade a New York Police Department officer was held responsible for a line-of-duty killing. The outcome stood in stark contrast to many other cases around the country in which police have been accused of killing unarmed black men and boys.
In the accidental on-the-job shooting cases that caused deaths in recent years, none of the involved police officers was prosecuted. “We are concerned about whether ethnicity weighed in the court ruling,” Eric Ng, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the oldest service organization in New York’s Chinatown established in 1883, said at a press conference after the conviction.
Some activists regarded 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.
Mass protests took place after African-American Brown was shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The grand jury later declined to indict the officer. Ferguson authorities later agreed to carry out reforms in the city's police force and court system after a Justice Department investigation found that both police and courts had discriminated against African-Americans.
Ng also doubted the police department’s assignment of two rookie officers for a night patrol in a crime-ridden area in the city. He said the CCBA would back Liang’s appeal.
The Organization of Chinese Americans, an NGO that advances welfare and civil rights of Asian-Americans in the US, demanded that an Independent Prosecutor’s Office be set up to deal with the shooting case that involves police officers to avoid mistreatment.
Nearly 80,000 people have signed “We the People” petitions on the White House website, demanding Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson to withdraw indictment against Liang. A petition that reaches 100,000 signatures within 30 days must be responded to by the White House.
Thompson said the Liang verdict had nothing to do with those other cases of Brown and Garner.
Numerous groups on Chinese-language social media service WeChat have popped up to mobilize the Chinese community in the US to join the rally which will be held across the US. Over 10,000 people in 31 cities and regions have answered the call.
John C. Liu, a former New York Council member who ran for mayor in 2013, said Liang was unfairly singled out. “It’s easier to hang an Asian, because Asians, they don’t speak up.”
Joseph Lin, a real estate agent and activist who had organized rallies at City Hall last winter after Mr. Liang was indicted, expressed frustration over what he said was the tepid response of Asian-American officials and community leaders. For too long, he told the New York Times, Asian-Americans have been too passive or indifferent because “they don’t want to be troubled; they don’t want to be bothered.”
“If you’re a group that doesn’t have a voice, a political voice, you will be mistreated,” said Lin.