Thousands of people rallied at Cadman Plaza on Saturday, February 20 protesting the conviction of former NYPD officer Peter Liang, who, while on foot patrol inside one of East New York’s Louis Pink Houses in November, 2014, fired his gun into a darkened stairwell, fatally striking 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the chest.
While public opinion on Liang’s second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct conviction has been split, the rally was held in support of Liang and to “demand justice, not politics” for the 28-year-old former officer from Bensonhurst. Liang was fired from the NYPD immediately following his conviction.
“Our rally committee expresses the deepest condolences to the family of Akai Gurley,” the Asian Chinese Commerce Association, Brooklyn Asian Community Empowerment, The Coalition of Asian Americans for Civil Rights and the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn Inc., released in a joint statement. “His loss was certainly a tragedy for his family as well as the city. We are equally saddened and deeply concerned by the selective and unjust prosecution of Peter Liang, a NYPD officer, who is made the scapegoat of politics as well as is the victim of selective prosecution which fails to resolve the long-standing distrust and tension between the minority community and law enforcement.”
“Peter Liang went into that building to protect the families of that building, not to hurt anybody,” Assemblymember William Colton said at the rally. “A terrible accident occurred. A terrible, accidental discharge of a gun occurred and the terrible result was that [an] innocent life was lost. I have sympathy for the family of Peter Liang and the family of Akai Gurley.”
Assmeblymember Peter Abbate was also in attendance at the rally and stressed that it was an important opportunity for the city to come together.
“The tragic death of Akai Gurley was an accident, not a crime,” said Abbate. “This is a great opportunity for us to come together as one city. We are here together in solidarity and I am heartened to see people from the communities I represent in Sunset Park and Bensonhurst join together with people from Flushing, Chinatown and Long Island to support this young man whose life is being torn apart by the justice system.“
State Senator Marty Golden, a former New York City Police officer, expressed his condolences for the Gurley family while also noting the importance of Saturday’s rally and the confusion surrounding the case.
“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,” Golden said. “The conviction of former Police Officer Peter Liang has created widespread frustration among many, including myself, who question the outcome based on the evidence. There are many citizens standing in solidarity with Peter Liang, his family and his quest for justice as apparent by the turnout at the rallies.”
According to District Attorney Ken Thompson’s office, evidence established that Gurley was both innocent and unarmed at the time of the shooting and that Liang was not under any threat that should have caused him to discharge his weapon.
Additionally, evidence showed that after the shooting, Liang failed to report the incident immediately, contrary to the NYPD Patrol Guide. Instead, the defendant argued with his partner about who would radio in the incident and later failed to render any medical aid – also in violation of the Patrol Guide.
“[This] verdict represents justice for Akai Gurley who was totally innocent when he was shot and killed that night,” Thompson said on February 12, after the verdict was announced. “This defendant ignored official training that he received as a police officer – specifically never to put his finger on the trigger of his gun unless he was ready to shoot and his reckless actions cost Akai Gurley his life – a life that Peter Liang had sworn to protect.”
Politicians and activists across the borough also chimed in at that time.
“Justice was served tonight, but there are no winners; a verdict can never make up for the tragedy of a young life lost and two families shattered,” said Councilmember Jumaane Williams in a joint statement with colleague Vanessa Gibson. “Akai Gurley’s life mattered and we thank the jury for their due diligence and commend District Attorney Ken Thompson and his team. Peter Liang may not have intended to kill Mr. Gurley, but he acted recklessly, violated his training, and must be held accountable for his actions.”
“Regardless of the verdict in the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley, it is a somber moment for all New Yorkers, a tragedy that impacts many of our communities on a very personal level,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “I appreciate the hard work that District Attorney Thompson and the jury in this case took in the pursuit of justice, and I hope we all work equally as hard in the pursuit of healing and peace.”