Chinese-Americans protest conviction of NYPD Officer Peter Liang, 2016

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Timing
Time Period:  
8 March
2015
to
20 February
2016
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
New York City
Location Description: 
Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn
Goals: 
Repeal Peter Liang's conviction in the shooting of Akai Gurley.

Note: However, some supporters felt some measure of accountability was appropriate.

 

On 20 November 2014, a New York police officer Peter Liang, joined by his partner, Shaun Landau, entered the Louis H. Pink Houses for a routine patrol of the Brooklyn public housing complex. During the vertical-patrol of the building, Liang drew his weapon as he opened the door to the stairwell. According to Liang’s defense, a loud noise startled him which caused him to accidentally pull the trigger. The bullet ricocheted against the wall and fatally struck Akai Gurley, who had entered the stairwell with his friend, Melissa Butler, a floor below. As Gurley bled on the floor, Liang and his partner, both recent police academy graduates, debated who would call-in the incident to authorities and failed to administer CPR to the wounded victim. Both officers said in court that they were not properly trained to administer CPR and claimed that the NYPD had helped them cheat during the certification test; Liang’s defense team also claimed he was too emotionally distraught to perform CPR. In February 2015, a grand jury indicted Peter Liang in the November shooting.

Akai Gurley’s death came at a time when many white officers went uncharged in the deaths of unarmed African-American individuals, most notably the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases. The New York Daily News reported that, in the previous 15 years, of the 179 NYPD officer-involved deaths, three officers had been indicted. Liang supporters pointed to racial and ethnic bias to explain the differences between Liang’s charges compared to the non-convictions or light sentences of white officers in similar cases. His supporters blamed the shooting on the difficult patrol conditions of the public housing unit, noting its dark lighting and poor maintenance as crucial factors that resulted in the accidental shooting. For Liang supporters, the indictment made Liang a scapegoat for the numerous non-convictions of white officers.

On 8 March 2015, a month after the indictment, around 2,000 protesters rallied at New York City Hall in support of Liang. The protesters, like most of the demonstration organizers, were mainly older Chinese-American immigrants who came to the United States in the past 20 years. Demonstrators came in buses from states along the East Coast, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania and marched from City Hall to Chatham Square in Chinatown after a press conference. Since many of the participants spoke Chinese as their first language, a significant proportion of the signs and banners at the rally were translated in both Chinese and English. Protesters waved American flags and held signs that expressed support for the NYPD and Officer Liang.

Five days after the rally on 13 March 2015, Assemblyman William Colton spoke to a small crowd at the United Chinese Association senior center and expressed his support for Liang. Colton blamed the shooting on the conditions of housing units and said, “A gun accidentally being discharged by an officer who has drawn the gun because he felt he was threatened… he was walking in a dark hallway, with a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I don’t see a criminal act, but I do see the possibility of a criminal act in having stairways being unlit for weeks and months.” New York State Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate Jr., whose district consisted of a considerable number of Chinese-American constituents, echoed a similar message that focused on the hazardous conditions of the Louis Pink Houses.

After a year-long investigation, the jury reached a verdict on 11 February 2016. The court found Peter Liang guilty of official misconduct, second-degree manslaugher, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment. Liang was the first NYPD officer to be convicted in a line-of-duty shooting in more than a decade and faced up to 15 years in prison.

In response to the verdict, Liang’s attorney Robert Brown called on Liang’s supporters to sign and send letters to Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun who presided over the case. The letters asked the judge to repeal Liang’s conviction based on the prosecutor’s inadequate evidence supporting the charge. In addition to these letters, his supporters also started a number of other petitions that asked for a fair review of Liang’s case. The Lin Sing Association started a petition that received 1,000 signatures while other activists founded two We the People petitions (which elicits an official response from the White House after surpassing 100,000 signatures). One of these petitions reached 120,000 signatures and specifically called on Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson to withdraw the indictment against Liang.

Many Chinese-Americans created WeChat groups to organize demonstrations and distribute information about the case. WeChat was China’s most popular mobile text and social media application and served as a major communication tool for this campaign. One of the groups, a Civil Rights channel, gained over 10,000 followers in less than 10 days following Liang’s conviction. The articles published on the channel received over a million views.

In addition to creating WeChat groups, Chinese community members in New York formed a general command committee to coordinate activities devoted to supporting Liang. Key members of this committee included community leaders Eddie Chiu in Manhattan, John Chan in Brooklyn, Phil Gim in Flushing, and Yiping Wu and Doug Lee on Long Island.

Through WeChat and the cooperation of at least 50 nationwide Asian-American community groups, campaign organizers planned national protests for 20 February 2016 across 30 states and in cities such as Orlando, San Diego, Los Angeles and Washington DC. Organizations that led these demonstrations included the Coalition of Asian-Americans for Civil Rights (CAACR), Greater New York Coalition to Support Officer Liang, Chinese American Equalization Association, among others. In St. Louis, the Coalition of Justice for Liang organized a brief rally at a plaza in front of the Civil Courts Building followed by a march of a couple hundred protesters through downtown. Again, many protesters carried American flags and signs with messages such as “Equal Justice For All,” “We Demand Fairness,” “NYPD and NYC Are Accountable” and “One Tragedy, Two Victims.” Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, approximately 2,000 protesters marched in Center City and used similar tactics.

The largest demonstration took place in New York. Over 10,000 protesters gathered at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn to protest Liang’s conviction. Demonstrators chanted “No scapegoat! No scapegoat!” and held signs that expressed the same or similar messages. Among the speakers at the demonstration were Councilman Mark Treyger and Assemblyman William Colton. Around 20 people on the other side of the road counter-protested and argued Liang was not a victim and called the larger protest an insult to Akai Gurley’s mourning family. These protesters believed that, regardless of race and the circumstances of other officer-involved shootings, Liang should still be held accountable for his involvement in Gurley’s death. Officers stood between the two protest camps and held plastic handcuffs and police batons.

In response to the large protest, New York State Senator and former NYPD officer Marty Golden released a statement that expressed solidarity with Liang supporters. Golden stated, “The rallies taking place throughout our City and Nation are bringing the voices of many Asian Americans to the front lines of the debate around justice in America. The conviction of former Police Officer Peter Liang has created widespread frustration among many, including myself, who question the outcome based on the evidence.”

Months after the jury’s verdict, a Brooklyn prosecutor requested that Liang receive no prison time. On 19 April 2016, Brooklyn judge Danny Chun reduced Liang’s charge to criminally negligent homicide and ordered him to serve five years probation and 800 hours of community service. Chun stated, “Shooting that gun and killing someone was probably the last thing in his mind and probably never entered his mind at all… This was not an intentional act.... There's no evidence, either direct or circumstantial, that the defendant was aware of Akai Gurley's presence.” In the summer of that year, the city settled a wrongful death lawsuit that awarded Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley’s domestic partner and mother of his daughter, more than $4 million. The court demanded Liang pay $25,000 of the four million.

The success of this campaign is unclear due to the divisions within the demonstration group. Some Liang supporters believed that Liang should be held accountable to a certain extent, but not for manslaughter, while some protesters wanted all charges dropped. It is also unclear to what degree these protests influenced Judge Danny Chun’s decision to lessen Liang’s conviction. The campaign was very successful, however, in organizing a nationwide demonstration by drawing the attention of tens of thousands Asian-Americans across the United States.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Voices of NY. 2016. “Chinese to Protest in 30 Cities in Support of Peter Liang.” Voices of NY, February 17. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://voicesofny.org/2016/02/chinese-to-protest-in-30-cities-in-support-of-peter-liang/).

Fang, Frank. 2016. “Chinese-Americans Organize Mass Protests After Conviction of NYPD Officer Peter Liang.” The Epoch Times, February 18. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422140306/http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/1970015-chinese-americans-organize-mass-protests-after-conviction-of-nypd-officer-peter-liang/).

Rojas, Rick. 2016. “In New York, Thousands Protest Officer Liang’s Conviction.” The New York Times, February 20. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/21/nyregion/in-new-york-thousands-protest-officer-liangs-conviction.html).

Anon. 2016. “Brooklyn DA Says Cop Who Killed Akai Gurley Should Not Go To Prison.” The Huffington Post, March 24. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422140933/http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/brooklyn-da-says-cop-who-killed-akai-gurley-should-not-go-to-prison_us_56f3f2f6e4b04c4c376160a9).

Jegroo, Ashoka. 2016. “NYC Activists Celebrate Guilty Verdict in Akai Gurley Case, Plan to Keep Pressure on NYPD.” Waging Nonviolence. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422141119/https://wagingnonviolence.org/2016/02/nyc-activists-celebrate-guilty-verdict-akai-gurley-nypd/).

Cohn, Benjamin. 2016. “Thousands Protest Conviction Of Ex-Officer Peter Liang: No Selective Justice! [Video].” BKLYNER, February 22. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422141231/http://bklyner.com/32178-bensonhurst/).

Silberstein, Rachel. 2015. “Assemblyman Colton Echoes Calls For Fair Trial For Indicted Officer Peter Liang.” BKLYNER, March 23. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422141358/http://bklyner.com/assemblyman-colton-echoes-calls-fair-trial-indicted-officer-peter-liang-bensonhurst/).

Schlinkmann, Mark. 2016. “Hundreds Rally in St. Louis to Support Convicted NYPD Officer.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422141453/http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/hundreds-rally-in-st-louis-to-support-convicted-nypd-officer/article_c81a3a12-6013-53fc-a183-53c12ca36262.html).

Phippen, J. Weston. 2016. “Why Was Officer Peter Liang Convicted?” The Atlantic, March 3. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422141617/https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2016/03/peter-liang-police-shooting/471687/).

Anon. 2016. “全美挺梁大遊行2/20同步舉行.” 星島日報, February 15. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422141750/http://ny.stgloballink.com/community/2016/0215/286560.shtml).

Fuchs, Chris. 2015. “National Rallies Planned for Indicted NYPD Officer Peter Liang.” NBC News, March 30. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422141953/http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/national-rallies-planned-indicted-nypd-officer-peter-liang-n332511).

Hansen, Matt and Matt Pearce. 2016. “No Prison Time for Ex-NYPD Officer Peter Liang in Fatal Shooting of Akai Gurley.” The LA Times, April 19. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422142102/http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-liang-sentencing-20160419-story.html).

Fuchs, Chris. 2016. “Brooklyn DA Will Not Appeal Reduced Peter Liang Conviction.” NBC News, December 7. Retrieved April 20, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170422142218/http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/brooklyn-da-will-not-appeal-reduced-peter-liang-conviction-n693151).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Juli Pham 20/04/2017