NEW YORK—About 10,000 supporters of a former police officer convicted of fatally shooting an unarmed man in a darkened stairwell rallied in New York in one of several demonstrations held across the country Saturday to protest his conviction.
Peter Liang, who has said the shooting was an accident, was convicted of manslaughter this month in the death of Akai Gurley, who was fatally shot in 2014 inside a New York City public housing building.
Many of Liang’s supporters say he is being scapegoated because of anger over other police shootings in New York and across the country and that he has been treated unfairly because he is Asian-American.
The protest in Brooklyn was one of more than 30 held around the U.S., organizers said. About 2,000 people marched in Philadelphia, and hundreds gathered at smaller rallies from Phoenix to Ann Arbor, Michigan. The events were organized by the “Coalition of Justice for Liang,” a national group formed to support the officer.
“No scapegoat! No scapegoat!” protesters in New York shouted as the crowd descended on Cadman Plaza, just outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. They carried signs declaring Liang’s prosecution “selective justice.”
The 28-year-old Liang, who was fired immediately after a jury convicted him, faces up to 15 years in prison.
He testified that he fired his gun after being frightened by a noise. Prosecutors argued that Liang’s actions were reckless and he shouldn’t have had his gun out or the finger on the trigger. They also said he did nothing to help Gurley as he lay dying on the floor.
“We’re here today to let people know that Chinese-Americans count as well,” said protester Don Lee, a candidate for New York’s state Assembly from lower Manhattan.
Lee added, “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.”
A few dozen people held a counter-protest in New York on Saturday, held across the street from the larger protest as officers with plastic handcuffs and batons stood between them.
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Soraya Soi Free participated in the counter-protest. She argued that Liang was clearly not a scapegoat because he was tried by a jury of his peers, and she did not approve of the protest supporting him.
“This protest is definitely an insult to Akai Gurley’s family,” she said.
Liang was convicted Feb. 11 on manslaughter and official-misconduct charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 14.
Liang’s attorney, Robert Brown, attended the Brooklyn rally and said the community’s support was “very uplifting” to Liang.
Brown said he is making motions to have the verdict set aside.
The shooting happened 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. Liang is Chinese-American.
Besides the protests in New York, Philadelphia and Michigan, organizers said rallies took place in dozens of other cities in the U.S. Saturday including Los Angeles and San Francisco.