Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Brooklyn on Saturday for former New York Police Department officer Peter Liang, who was convicted last week of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct in the shooting death of an unarmed man in a Brooklyn housing project.
This protest was brought up to a national level. More than thirty cities throughout the country are filled with demonstrators, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.
Peter Liang, a 28 year old rookie police officer, was found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct earlier this month in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, a twenty eight year old African American male. With 18 months on the job, Liang and one other partner were on patrol in the dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project in November 2014 when he fired his gun. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck Akai Gurley in the chest. Gurley later died at a hospital. Liang was immediately fired and now faces a sentence of up to 15 years.
Why are people angry?
“What happened could have happened to any one of us,” said retired police officer Joe Murray, who is now a criminal-defense attorney. “I’ve been in that situation, and it’s very scary. The area was dangerous.”
People are comparing this incident with the death of Eric Garner who died in Staten Island, New York City in 2014. Garner died because a New York City Police Department officer name Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold for about 15 to 19 seconds while arresting him. The medical examiner concluded that Garner was killed by “compression of neck, chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police, which is a homicide.”
According to the medical examiner’s definition, a homicide is a death caused by the intentional actions of another person. However, later in December 2014, Pantaleo was not found guilty. This jury decision stirred public protests and rallies with charges of police brutality. More than 50 demonstrations had been held nationwide. On July 13, 2015, an out-of-court settlement was announced in which the City of New York would pay the victim’s family $5.9 million dollars. But still, the officer who committed the alleged homicide, was not convicted of any crime.
People are seriously questioning the justice system. Liang never had the intent to kill. He never even knew Gurley was there. Compared to Pantaleo, the killer who is walking free, Liang, who never aimed his gun at anyone, is about to be sentenced to jail for 15 years.
What do people say about this?
“What happened here is a tragedy,” defense attorney Rae Koshetz said. “It’s a terrible tragedy, but it’s not a crime.”
Some in the protesting crowd wrote, “equally saddened by the selective and unjust prosecution of Peter Liang, who is made the scapegoat of the police brutality that has long troubled our society.”
The protestors took the conviction as an easy political choice. They claim that since the tension between the police officers and the African American communities is at a higher than a usual level, the police department felt the need to satisfy the Black Lives Matter movement with a conviction. Liang has been made a scapegoat, sacrificed for all the mistreatment police officers have conducted in the past, all because he is a minority.
One of the protest organizers, Phil Gim of the Coalition of Asian Americans for Civil Rights, said in an interview: “I think if Peter Liang was white, he would have lots of support. The city, the Police Department, his union all abandoned him and hung him out to dry. Not one person from the PBA stood behind him. If we didn’t come out to support him, it would be a slap in his face.”
Meanwhile, there was a counter-protest of about 20 people held nearby by the Black Lives Matter movement. They held signs that read, “Jail killer cops,” and, “Justice for Akai Gurley.” Eric Allens, though not a part of any protest group, said in a NYPost interview: “I feel the verdict is absolutely correct. Justice is already served. Saying it’s racism against Liang is basically nonsense. Peter Liang is not being used as a scapegoat. He needs to serve time because he committed a murder.”
How did the police respond?
“While we know that Peter Liang did not intend to kill Akai Gurley, he was convicted because his reckless actions cost an innocent man his life,” Brooklyn District Attonrey Ken Thompson told NBC News in an email on Friday. “This case is about what happened in Brooklyn, not Ferguson or Staten Island, and the jury convicted on the basis of these unique and tragic facts. My office will continue to pursue equal justice for all of Brooklyn.”
What’s going on now?
Many protesters, chanting “Don’t be a scapegoat” and “Justice for Peter Liang,” also directed their anger at Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. After the verdict, an online White House petition was created, accusing prosecutors of indicting Liang for political gain and demanding that Thompson withdraw the indictment. Now, roughly 124,000 people have signed the petition and the number is still growing rapidly.
Is the protest going to change Liang’s fate? Or is the jury going to stick to its decision?