By Shanshan Wang
Thousands of people, mostly Chinese-Americans, marched in downtown Chicago Saturday, calling justice for former NYPD officer Peter Liang, who was convicted of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a black man in 2014.
The protesters chanted along the way, holding national flags, signs and banners with slogans conveying the message that selective justice is not justice, and that Liang is a scapegoat. Many of them have been following the news and sharing the protest information on WeChat, the most popular social media platform among Chinese community.
“Everyone should be the same,” said Chen Lin, 46, who also brought her 7-year-old son to the protest. “This is selective prosecution. They didn’t charge the white officials,” “I want [my son] to know about the case and to have an idea why it’s necessary for us to stand up.”
In 2014, rookie officer Liang fired a bullet that ricocheted off a wall, killing Akai Gurley, as Liang was conducting a vertical patrol in a Brooklyn housing project. The shooting drew attention of Black Lives Matter and other groups advocating for better treatment of black citizens by police. On Feb. 11, Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct. Liang faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on Apr. 14.
Convicting a police officer for manslaughter for killing someone in the line of duty rarely occurs. The verdict angered the Chinese-American community, which launched protests in more than 30 cities around the country.
“We are using this critical golden 30-day post-verdict proceedings to try to send a strong message to the judge that the verdict is absolutely wrong and unfair, so that he is not going to uphold the judgment on that verdict,” said attorney Peter Y. Qiu, one of the protest organizers.
Many in the Chinese-American community believe Liang’s conviction is an overreaction to the larger issue of police violence across the nation. In his case, they say, the shooting was simply an accident.
“I think Chinese-Americans historically have been victimized many times. This is not the only case,” said Lorac Chow, 72. “There [has] been a lot of gun violence. They have to get some police officer prosecuted.”
Qiu explained that the Liang verdict lacks evidentiary support. Only one bullet was fired, and it hit the wall first before ricocheting and hitting Gurley. In addition, Qiu added the shooting was an accident since Liang had no idea Gurley was entering the staircase. Liang’s behavior was not reckless.
Although rallies of such magnitude in the Chinese-American community are unprecedented, not all the opinions of onlookers favored Liang.
“What people seem like they want today is a free pass for killing black folks,” said 24-year-old Fresco Steez, who chanted ‘black lives matter’ to the protesters. “No one gets away with killing young black people. Police shouldn’t be shooting their guns if there is no need.”
Most passersby were not familiar with the case and asked what the protest was about. Many of them said they had never seen such a large number of Chinese-Americans in Chicago so united for a cause.
“I am glad to see our community united in many different places in such a short time,” said Cliff Zhonggang Li, the executive director of New Asian Leaders. “It will have positive effects in Chinese community. Before, we always said we are like ‘yi pan san sha,’ which means ‘a bunch of sand.’ We look similar but we really cannot work together. But it’s really changing. And it’s up to us to make the change.”
Protester Yeping Wang, 27, said she hoped the protest here and elsewhere in the nation will demonstrate that Chinese-Americans aren’t always silent, but she added she thinks some protest slogans might lead to misunderstandings. “We should unite with the African-American community and keep the focus more on why white people get away every time.”