A New York City police officer was convicted of manslaughter on Thursday for killing an unarmed man who was hit by a ricocheting bullet fired from the officer’s gun in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project in a case that highlighted concerns over police accountability.
The officer, Peter Liang, and his partner were conducting a so-called vertical patrol on Nov. 20, 2014, inside the Louis H. Pink Houses in the East New York neighborhood. At one point, Officer Liang opened a door into an unlighted stairwell and his gun went off. The bullet glanced off a wall and hit Akai Gurley, 28, who was walking down the stairs with his girlfriend, and pierced his heart. Mr. Liang, a rookie officer who had graduated from the Police Academy the year before the shooting, was also found guilty of official misconduct for failing to help Mr. Gurley as he lay on a fifth-floor landing. Mr. Gurley’s girlfriend, Melissa Butler, had testified that while she knelt in a pool of his blood trying to resuscitate him, the officer stopped briefly but did not help before proceeding down the stairs.
‘No scapegoat! No scapegoat!’ protesters shouted, angry that Liang, who was fired immediately after a jury convicted him, now faces up to 15 years in prison. In court, Liang had testified that he had drawn his gun when entering a Brooklyn housing project and that he fired after being startled by a noise. His bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck Gurley, who subsequently died. Liang has never denied the killing, but says that it was an accident, not a crime.
That sentiment was echoed by a number of Brooklyn protesters who held up signs with pictures of Liang’s face and text that read ‘Tragedy not crime’ and ‘An accident is not a felony!’ One woman held a sign reading ‘One tragedy, two victims!’
One protester held up a sign with an image of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, and the caption ‘Dream for all Americans.’
‘We’re here today to let people know that Chinese-Americans count as well,’ protester Don Lee, a candidate for New York’s state Assembly from lower Manhattan, told Associated Press. ‘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.’
Liang was convicted on manslaughter and official misconduct charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14. His attorney, Robert Brown, attended the Brooklyn rally and said the community’s support was ‘very uplifting’ to Liang. He added that he is making motions to have the verdict set aside.
The Brooklyn protest was mirrored by similar gatherings in other cities: an estimated 5,000 people marched in downtown Philadelphia and thousands more rallied in San Francisco and Los Angeles’s Chinatowns, and other protests occurred at the Washington Monument and in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Miami. The ‘Coalition of Justice for Liang,’ the national group that organized the protests, said a total of 30 protests were held across the US.
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.