Thousands of protesters rallied in New York and more than 30 other US cities over the weekend in support of a former New York City police officer who was convicted of manslaughter for a shooting in a housing project stairwell.
In New York, as many as 15,000 protesters, mostly Chinese-Americans, packed a park in downtown Brooklyn, not far from the courthouse where Peter Liang was convicted earlier this month in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man.
They chanted, “No scapegoat! No scapegoat!” and carried signs bearing the same message, The New York Times reported.
Some said they had never had a reason to protest before, while others said they had taken the day off from work or had come by train and bus from across the city — or as far as New Jersey and Connecticut — to take part in the demonstration at Cadman Plaza Park to show their support for Liang.
In court, Liang had testified that he had drawn his gun when entering a Brooklyn housing project in 2014 and that he fired after being startled by a noise.
His bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck Akai Gurley, who subsequently died.
Liang has never denied the killing but says it was an accident, not a crime.
The deadly encounter was one of many in recent months that drew heightened scrutiny amid the heated national debate over how police officers use force, particularly against African-American men.
Many of his supporters say they believe Liang, a rookie with only 18 months on the job at the time of the shooting, is being scapegoated because of anger over other police shootings.
Some say he has been treated unfairly because he is Asian.
For perspective, during the past 15 years, New York Police Department officers have killed at least 180 people.
Only three officers had been indicted before Liang.
While demonstrators expressed sympathy for Gurley’s family, they also criticized the jury’s verdict, saying the shooting was unintentional and that Liang, 28, wasn’t acting recklessly when his gun went off while patrolling a pitch-dark stairwell at the Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn, NBC News reported.
The rally was one of more than 30 in cities throughout the country Saturday, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, DC.
In Los Angeles, demonstrators chanted Liang’s name as they circled the sidewalks in front of city hall.
Cars drove slowly down the surrounding streets, horns honking as supporters held signs out of the windows, the Los Angeles Times said, describing the scene.
At one point, a black-and-white LAPD cruiser whooped its siren in front of the crowd, drawing cheers.
Supporters held signs plastered with slogans written in English and Chinese: “Save Peter Liang”, “Accident not crime” and “All lives matter”.
Xiayi Shirley Zhang, 27, who lives downtown, questioned why Liang was convicted when so many other high-profile police shootings were “far more obviously” questionable, the LA Times reported.
“It is a tragedy,” she said of the fatal shooting.
“But to us, with the criminal conviction, the system let us down, let Peter down.”
In San Francisco, where police estimated a crowd of 5,000 demonstrators showed up, protester Amy Matecki told CNN: “Peter Liang’s incident brought the Chinese community together. We want to speak up. One voice, united together. Life matters, justice for all. No scapegoat.”
“A lot of white officers have also killed people,” Zhang Yuan, who brought along his 18-year-old daughter Jing to the Brooklyn rally, told NBC News in Mandarin.
“Why don’t they prosecute them? Why only Peter? It’s not fair.”
Victoria Han, one of the organizers of a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, attended by more than 400 people from as far away as Indiana, told NBC News the issue is not that Liang shouldn’t be held accountable, but that there should be fair and equal justice for all.
“This conviction is undermining our system,” Han said, referring to the Liang verdict.
“It has and will destroy more and more immigrants’ faith and hope in this country.”
Liang, who remains free without bail, could be handed up to 15 years in prison when sentenced by State Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on April 14.
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