Thousands Rally in Support of Former NYPD Officer Peter Liang After Conviction in Death of Akai Gurley

Protesters attend a rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in support of a former NYPD police officer Peter Liang, who was convicted of manslaughter for the 2014 shooting death of Akai Gurley, in a housing project stairwell. The 28-year-old Liang, who testified the shooting was an accident, could be sentenced to 5 to 15 years for shooting Gurley, who was unarmed. (PHOTO CREDIT: Craig Ruttle / AP)
Protesters attend a rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in support of a former NYPD police officer Peter Liang, who was convicted of manslaughter for the 2014 shooting death of Akai Gurley, in a housing project stairwell. The 28-year-old Liang, who testified the shooting was an accident, could be sentenced to 5 to 15 years for shooting Gurley, who was unarmed. (PHOTO CREDIT: Craig Ruttle / AP)

Several thousand protesters, most of them Chinese Americans, packed a park in downtown Brooklyn Saturday afternoon to show support for Peter Liang, a former New York Police Department (NYPD) officer 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.

The rally, inside Cadman Plaza Park not far from where Liang’s trial took place, was one of more than 30 planned in cities throughout the country Saturday, including Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. The rally in New York began a little before noon with a moment of silence for 28-year-old Akai Gurley, who was killed by a ricocheting bullet fired from Liang’s gun in November 2014.

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.

“I have the same opinion as last year,” Gordon Zhang, of the Long Island Chinese American Association, told NBC News. “I think both Akai Gurley and Peter Liang are victims of a system that failed.”

At the Brooklyn Rally, a steady stream of shuttle buses from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens dropped off Chinese-American demonstrators, some of whom entered the park carrying American flags and signs that read “One Tragedy, Two Victims.” Many said they believe Liang, who is Chinese American, has been made a scapegoat to compensate for the number of white officers not indicted in police incidents in 2014 in which unarmed black men were killed — those include Eric Garner, a Staten Island man placed in a chokehold, and Michael Brown, a teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

“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.”

Another Chinese American who attended and gave only his surname as Cao told NBC News in Mandarin that he thought the verdict was wrong. “It really was an accident,” he said.

Victoria Han, one of the organizers of the Michigan rally, 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.

She added she was upset that NYPD Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, a 14-year veteran, was brought up on departmental charges in January for failing to supervise officers during the confrontation with Garner. Adonis is black; the officer who applied the hold, Daniel Pantaleo, is white. Pantaleo remains on modified duty and has not faced departmental charges.

“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.”

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SOURCE: NBC News, Chris Fuchs