Around 1,000 people rallied in Philadelphia’s Chinatown section Saturday in support of a former police officer who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man in the stairwell of a housing project in Brooklyn.
The protesters marched from 10th and Arch streets to 11th and Market streets. It was one of many rallies that took place in cities nationwide, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Saturday to protest the conviction of former NYPD officer Peter Liang.
Liang, 28, could be sentenced to 5 to 15 years for shooting Akai Gurley, an unarmed man, in the stairwell of a housing project in Brooklyn back in 2014.
Liang was patrolling a public housing high-rise with his gun drawn when he fired. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley on a lower floor. Gurley, 28, was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries.
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Liang testified that the shooting was an accident. He said he had been holding his weapon safely, with his finger on the side and not the trigger, when a sudden sound jarred him and his body tensed.
"I just turned, and the gun went off," he testified.
Prosecutors said Liang handled his gun recklessly, must have realized from the noise that someone was nearby and did almost nothing to help Gurley.
Liang said he initially looked with his flashlight, saw no one and didn't immediately report the shot, instead quarreling with his partner about who would call their sergeant. Liang thought he might get fired.
But then, he said, he went to look for the bullet, heard cries and found the wounded Gurley and his distraught girlfriend.
Liang then radioed for an ambulance, but he acknowledged not helping Gurley's girlfriend as she tried to revive him. Liang explained he thought it was wiser to wait for professional medical aid.
"I was panicking. I was shocked and in disbelief that someone was hit," Liang said.
Liang's partner, who was not charged criminally and testified in the case, was fired by NYPD.
Many of Liang's supporters say they believe he is being scapegoated because of anger over other police shootings. Some also say he has been treated unfairly because he is Asian-American.
“We mourn the accidental death of African American Akai Gurley and we understand the furor left by the thousands of police shooting-related deaths in the last decade,” an organizer for Saturday’s rally wrote. “Mr. Gurley is a victim, but Peter Liang is another. We believe Peter Liang’s selective prosecution and conviction will leave a shameful mark in our nation’s collective consciousness because of its blatant unfairness to a rookie cop from a minority group.”
The organizer also criticized the New York Police Department.
“NYPD is evading criticism for its inadequate training and for sending teams comprised solely of inexperienced rookie cops to highly dangerous neighborhoods,” the organizer wrote. “The government wants to avoid further racial tension and riots. Some communities want revenge after what happened in Ferguson. But what about Peter Liang's individual rights? The blame should not rest on one person, the indictment should be levied against the entire system fraught with bias, prejudice, and inadequacy, which fails everyone from the police officers to the citizens they are entrusted to protect.”