NEW YORK—The usually politically quiet constituency of Chinese-Americans is embarking on a nationwide mobilization in 40 cities this weekend, in protest of what they say is the unjust conviction of New York Police Department officer Peter Liang, who accidentally discharged his firearm and killed Brooklyn resident Akai Gurley in 2014.
The rallies, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20, aim to demonstrate the solidarity of the Chinese-American community, support Liang’s family, and lodge a protest against his conviction.
“The theme of the rallies is about Chinese-Americans making their voices heard about the unjust verdict against Peter Liang,” said Andy Wang, one of the organizers of the protest in San Francisco. “What happened was a tragedy, but it was not a crime.”
Peter Liang, a 28-year-old rookie officer, and his partner Shaun Laudau, were patrolling the Pink Houses, a Brooklyn housing development at 2724 Linden Blvd., on Nov. 20, 2014, when Liang accidentally pulled the trigger on his gun in a dimly lit stairwell.
The bullet ricocheted off a concrete wall and fatally struck Akai Gurley in the chest, according to police.
Since Liang’s indictment in February last year, many Chinese-Americans felt that he was somehow being used as scapegoat for the multiple nonconvictions of white officers involved in the deaths of African-American individuals.
In March 2015, 3,000 Chinese-Americans turned out for a rally to support Liang at City Hall, and in April thousands walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.
On Feb. 11, Liang was found guilty of manslaughter and now faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. Support for Liang has culminated in the national protests on Feb. 20.
In New York City, the parade will be held from noon in Brooklyn, supplied by 100 shuttle buses organized by the Long Island Chinese American Association (LICAA), a nonprofit, to ferry residents from Flushing, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.
“If Liang were really sentenced for 15 years, it would be unthinkable in a normal society,” Andy Wang said in an interview. “Even African-Americans would think: The guy who purposely strangled someone, who then died, wasn’t found guilty, and this guy who accidentally fired his gun, unintentionally, was found guilty.”
Wang was referring to the incident involving Eric Garner, who died on July 17, 2014, after he was put in a chokehold by NYPD officers. The officers involved were not indicted.
“What we want to do is to help America. We enjoy the benefits of the civil rights movement by black Americans. Chinese-Americans have made a lot of contribution to the U.S. economy. But in terms of human rights, now it’s time for us to make a contribution,” Wang said.
On Feb. 18 in Flushing, over 20 volunteers stood in front of the public library collecting signatures in support of Liang. A local resident surnamed Yan told the New York-based broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television: “We Chinese people have stayed out of the public eye. Now I feel that if I don’t voice my opinion, will there be another chance in the future?”
Lucy, one of the volunteers for the signature drive, said: “The message we want to send is that Chinese should be on their feet and not remain silent. In the face of an unjust ruling, we should let others hear our voices.”
The Lin Sing Association, a Chinese-American organization that aims to improve the rights and welfare of its members, said that many Chinese-Americans had come to its headquarters on Mott Street in New York to sign a petition to the judge overseeing Liang’s trial.
“Chinese people are outraged,” said Zhao Wensheng, a consultant working at the association. He added that the association had been getting checks in the mail from supporters.
A petition on the White House’s website We The People calls for Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson to withdraw the indictment against Liang. By Feb. 18, it had garnered over 97,000 signatures.