About 200 people marched in downtown Seattle over the weekend in support of former New York City police officer Peter Liang.
Demonstrators say the Chinese American police officer stands to receive a harsher punishment than white NYPD police officers have received, after he was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Akai Gurley.
But several dozen Black Lives Matter demonstrators, including the Seattle Black Book Club and the Pacific Rim Solidarity Network, took the stage to ask the crowd to consider the injustice against the 28-year-old father who was killed by Liang’s bullet.
“You can recognize that convictions fall on racial lines without supporting someone who has killed a black man,” counter-protester Palca Shibale, of the Seattle Black Book Club, told the crowd. “The black community have never rallied behind black police officers who kill other people. The Latino community have never rallied around Latino police officers who killed other people. When you say justice for Peter Liang, you are not recognizing that he killed an unarmed 28-year-old man.”
The Seattle Black Book Club also issued a statement about Saturday’s protest on its Facebook page.
However, Wei Duan, who attended the rally in support of Liang, echoed many in the crowd who said they believed Gurley and Liang are both victims. She says Liang’s conviction and possible sentence reveals a double-standard when previous NYPD cases involving white officers have resulted in probation or no charges at all, as in the case of the death of Eric Garner.
“We really feel sorry, I offer sincere condolences to the black community,” Duan said. “The standards are for everyone. There are thousands of cases before this one — all with white policemen — that are not even brought to court.”
A jury found Liang guilty of manslaughter on Feb. 11 in the death of Gurley. Liang and his partner, Officer Shaun Landau, were checking the stairwells and hallways of the Louis H. Pink Houses in New York City on Nov. 20, 2014. The method is called “vertical patrol,” and some in New York City have called for an end to the practice.
According to Liang, his gun went off after he was startled by Gurley entering the stairwell. The bullet glanced a wall and struck Gurley, who was just passing through. Prosecutors said that Gurley’s girlfriend and a neighbor — and not Liang or Landau — performed CPR and called 9-1-1 for help. Landau was given immunity and testified against Liang.
Liang is the first NYPD officer in 11 years to face jail time for a fatal on-duty shooting, according to the New York Times. He faces up to 15 years in prison and is set to be sentenced in April.
Rallies in support of Liang were organized Saturday for 30 cities nationwide, including in Seattle and New York City. Several, like the one in Seattle, were interrupted by Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
Jianhua Zhang, another Seattle rally attendee, said she believes Liang was wrong, but that he is being singled out for punishment because he’s not white.
“He’s being being selected to pay for the prior mistakes, for the prior crimes,” she said.
“We are asking that Peter Liang not be a scapegoat for the white officers who have committed murder,” said Frank Irigon a board member of the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Seattle.
Irigon, who is a longtime local activist, noted that Asian Americans throughout the country have differing opinions on how harshly Liang should be punished, but said the demonstrators wanted to note the discrepancy between his possible sentence and the outcomes of other recent cases.
“You can see the difference in justice between a white police officer and an Asian officer,” Irigon said. “We don’t condone what happened to Gurley. We’re not asking for leniency, we’re asking for justice. Liang should not be sentenced to 15 years.”
“Should he pay the maximum for all police officers?” Irigon said.
Seattle activist J.M. Wong, a counter-protester with the Pacific Rim Solidarity Network (PARISOL) spoke to the crowd in both English and Mandarin. She told the crowd to recognize the history and injustice of black people being killed by police officers and facing little repercussion.
“Racialized sentencing is not a new thing,” Wong told the Globalist after the rally. “That is a reality of the criminal justice system here.”
Wong said it bothered her that the Chinese American community have not held similar shows of support for other Asian Americans currently in jail.
“Peter Liang is not the most tragic Chinese American person in the United States,” Wong said. “It’s a very political moment (for Chinese Americans), but they’re supporting this cop.”
Yin Yu, who also was part of the counter-protest, said she was sad to see the divide between the two sides.
“I think it speaks to how easy it is to stand up for a member of our own community, but not speak up for the whole injustice,” she said. “For me to see that happening to our community… there’s so much more for us to do.”
From around the country/internationally
Fusion video: 22-year-old ABC (American Born Chinese) on Peter Liang
Tencent News International (by Ling Wei): Chinese Americans begin nationwide protest — Black Lives Matter obstructs Peter Liang rally in Seattle
Medium (by Annie Tan): Peter Liang Was Justly Convicted- He’s Not A Victim, Says This Niece of Vincent Chin
New York Post (by Shirley Ng): Biased DA, city scapegoat the Asian-American community
New York Times (by Jay Caspian King): How Should Asian-Americans Feel About the Peter Liang Protests?