Thousands rally in Brooklyn to support ex-cop Peter Liang after conviction in death of Akai Gurley
'One tragedy, two victims'
Ten to 15,000 protesters, the vast majority Asian American, poured into Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn on Saturday to support NYPD Officer Peter Liang, the rookie cop convicted of fatally shooting Akai Gurley in a darkened stairwell in a Brooklyn housing project.
“Justice for Peter Liang! Justice for all!” the crowd chanted.
Gurley, a 28-year-old African-American who had two children, died after Liang’s bullet ricocheted off a stairwell wall at the Louis Pink Houses in East New York in November 2014.
Liang says the shooting was an accident. He faces from 5 to 15 years on manslaughter and official-misconduct charges.
As the crowd waved signs reading, “One tragedy, two victims,” and “Accident is not a felony,” speaker after speaker expressed sorrow over the death of Gurley but called Liang a scapegoat and a victim of a failed governmental system.
The event, sponsored by the Coalition for Asian Americans for Civil Rights (CAACR), opened with the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence for Gurley.
“[Gurley’s] loss was a big tragedy for his family as well as the city. His accidental death was the result of systemic problems that we as a society must address,” said John Chen, co-chair of CAACR. (Chen’s words were translated into English by community leader Steve Chung.) Chen called the prosecution of Liang “selective and unjust.”
“A rookie cop, full of aspiration to make New York a better and safer place to live, was deployed with another rookie cop in a war zone building without adequate supervision, training and support,” Chen said. “The shooting of Akai Gurley was truly a tragic accident. It was not intentional.”
Chen said that both Gurley and Liang are victims of a failed system. “Liang is not a criminal. Sacrificing Liang is not the correct way to solve a systematic problem. Justice is not served.”
Liang’s mother, accompanied by his attorney and speaking through a translator, offered her condolences to the Gurley family, and said she understood the pain of losing a son. She called the shooting a “terrible accident.”
State Assemblymember William Colton (Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, Midwood), pointed his finger at a number of systemic failures that led to Gurley’s death, including what he called a problem with the amount of force needed to pull the trigger on Liang’s gun, the deployment of two rookie officers in a totally dark hallway, and an anti-police climate.
“Officer Liang’s misfiring should have been under NYPD disciplinary action, not our legal system,” Colton said.
Assemblymember Peter Abbate (Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Borough Park) said the case was moving to the court of appeals.
“This was an accident, not a crime,” he said. “We think the DA and the Assistant DA went a little bit too far.”
Golden calls for a retrial
“I was a police officer. I know what it is to be in the streets,” said state Sen. Martin Golden (Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst). He said there should be a retrial.
“[Liang] was in a building going through, doing what he was supposed to do as a police officer,” Golden said. “And he has an accident, like anybody else can have. It could have happened to me. It could have happened to my son [also a cop], it could have happened to anybody.”
Golden drew a rumble of applause as he said, “It was an accident, ladies and gentlemen. It was an accident, and that’s the way it should go down.”
Former NYC Comptroller John Liu said the Asian community understood the hurt in the black community “after seeing the killing of one unarmed black man after another. It’s an injustice when a black man gets shot and no charges are brought. It’s an injustice when a black man is taken in an illegal choke hold, captured on video, and yet there are no charges. Which is why we were all shocked last Thursday night when we heard on the radio and saw on our phones that [Liang was] convicted of manslaughter.”
Liu added, “Though I don’t think we were all that shocked, because we feared that result from the beginning. Why? For 150 years there was a common phrase in America. This phrase was, ‘Not a Chinaman’s chance.’ What does that mean? It means if you’re Chinese, there’s no hope for you. Not a Chinaman’s chance for 150 years. We Asian-Americans also feel a deep sense of injustice!”
Signing up voters
As a sign of their unhappiness with those responsible for Liang’s prosecution, especially Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, speakers called for unregistered voters to sign up at tables set up at in the park.
Assemblymember Ron Kim (Queens) said, “Right now, there are thousands of Asian immigrants, students, small business owners, workers, who feel like they’ve been mistreated. A different level of standards is being applied to Asian Americans. We must get organized. We must register to vote.”
City Councilmember Mark Treyger (Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Gravesend) said, “We must register thousands of Asian-Americans to vote. This is your city, your state and your country!”
The crowd broke out in a chant of “Vote! Vote! Vote!”
“I believe this case shows the injustice to Peter Liang,” Paula Chen, a resident of Sunset Park, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I’m not talking about Asian, I’m not talking about anybody, I’m talking about this individual case.
“When accidents happen, you look at a lot of factors,” she added. “Here in this case, I believe political factors played an [important] role – the racial issues in the nation drew national attention. I truly believe Peter Liang became a scapegoat.”
Black Live Matter counter-demonstration
A small “Black Lives Matter” counter-demonstration, separated from the thousands of Asian protesters by a phalanx of police, played out on the median strip of Cadman Plaza West.
Their voices were largely drowned out by the thunderous chants echoing from the park.
“At the end of the day, if you shot somebody in the stairwell, you would have gone to jail. If I shot somebody in the stairwell, I would have gone to jail. He shot someone in the stairwell, he should go to jail. It’s very simple,” said demonstrator Kimberly Ortiz, a resident of the Bronx.
“Broken windows policing is no accident,” she said. “Vertical patrols are prohibited, and he still chose to do one with his gun drawn, with his finger on the trigger. It takes a lot of pounds of pressure to pull the trigger, okay? So he was already not following protocol to begin with. That is not an accident. That is negligence, absolutely, but he’s still guilty—the life of someone was taken by his hand.”
Liang will be sentenced on April 14.
The rally was one of more than 30 planned in cities throughout the country Saturday.
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