Protesting to Support Peter Liang

More than 3,000 people gathered at Chatham Square to oppose Peter Liang’s indictment. (Photo via World Journal)

More than 3,000 people gathered at Chatham Square to oppose Peter Liang’s indictment. (Photo via World Journal)

A demonstration led by supporters of officer Peter Liang gathered on March 8 near city court, a group of roughly 3,000 assembled at Chatham Square. Many of the assembled faulted Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson with denying Liang a fair process in favor of his own political gain, and Chinatown city councilwoman Margaret Chin for openly supporting Liang’s indictment without waiting for facts to be uncovered or communicating with the community.

“When Thompson announced before indicting Liang that he actually called Al Sharpton, I really found that odd. Why did a legal matter require consultation with Sharpton? If he was going to consult with him, why didn’t he ask any representatives of our Chinese district?” This was the sentiment of New York Chinese Chamber of Commerce Chairman Justin Yu and several other officials gathered with him at Chatham Square, who saw Akai Gurley’s death as a clear accident which has now led to an indictment that will be nearly impossible to drop. “Though this is the year of the goat, we’ll not allow Peter Liang to become a scapegoat!”

Some of the demonstrators felt disappointment with Margaret Chin, believing that she had failed to stand up for them as an official in a time of need. “If the police who are protecting us don’t themselves feel safe, how will we know peace and safety? As Asians we should not always be victims of sacrifice.”

One elderly woman, Ms. Chen was touched by the community’s ability to organize, since it had not done so for any reason in a long time. She still felt disappointed and saddened with Liang’s indictment, believing it to be a consequence of political expedience. “Many of my friends and I feel like this has become a political issue, and Margaret Chin caved to it.” She believes the councilwoman should have been more patient in gathering information, and considering the community’s opinions.

Chin’s spokesperson, Sam Spokony, says that the demonstrators might have been unduly influenced by rumors they’ve seen online, misunderstanding her beliefs and position. “Margaret Chin never said that Peter Liang is guilty, or that he’s a murderer.” Rather, Chin supports the legal process because she believes that Liang will receive fair trial, rights, and judgment through the court system. She believes that police officers whose actions result in the loss of innocent lives should all go through the process, regardless of race. “She’s distanced herself from politics in this case, placing her trust in the legal system.” Spokony says that it is instead many critics of Chin who view – or seek to exploit – Chin’s statements as a political issue.

One of Chin’s supporters speaking on the condition of anonymity agreed that the demonstration had political goals, believing that the lack of indictment for officers involved with Eric Garner and Michael Brown has nothing to do with Mr. Liang. Without evidence, there’s no reason to believe that Thompson is out to go against Asian Americans. She feels that the demonstrators aren’t behaving much differently than Peter Liang himself in that Brooklyn project hallway, “opening fire at the first hint of danger.” She hopes Chinese and Asian residents won’t stir up a commotion for any event without first coldly evaluating and judging the facts.

A conspicuous lack of Chinese youth were present at the demonstration. Some suggested that the youth simply don’t care as much about public affairs. “Maybe the young just aren’t so interested in politics,” said a Mr. Li, 29, who believes that Liang’s indictment is clearly a political maneuver by Thompson. He plans to answer such politics with his vote the next time around, for which he hopes fellow Chinese-Americans will join him in realizing – and displaying – the community’s growing electoral power.
Another demonstrator, a 23 year-old from Flushing, said that many of his friends just felt awkward being seen in public for such a cause, but signed an online petition.

“I’ve been in America for awhile, and I’ve seen many examples of Chinese being discriminated against,” said a Mr. Lu, who works at a nearby sushi restaurant but took the day off to participate after hearing about the demonstration on WeChat. “There are 700,000 Chinese in New York, but we’re scattered like sand. If I don’t go, who will?”

This article originally appeared in the English language edition of World Journal. It was written by New York reporters Rachel Liu and Philia Li and translated and re-written by Jack Chen.

3 Comments

  1. The Gurley shooting is indeed a tragedy. It is one that could re-fuel tensions between the African American and Asian American communities, rather than bring us together.

    Perhaps the sad irony of the situation is had the starwell been lit in all likelihood Officer Liang would not have felt vulnerable. While many of us are lampooning Officer Liang, what do we have to say about city, state, and federal government policies that allow public housing to deteriorate to the point where stairwells are not lit? Are NYCHA, DHCR, and HUD not in some ways culpable as well?

    Similarly, what do we say about the social conditions in many NYCHA complexes? Sadly developments that were once places where working class families raised their children have now become dumping grounds for people who are uneducated, unskilled, and marginalized. Pathology has sadly become the norm, with few advocates or policy makers offering a vision or plan for change.

    Finally, what do we do about addressing the alienation that is so pervasive in our society? Residents don’t trust the police and the police often behave as did US military personnel during the Vietnam War, e.g., they perceive themselves as occupiers and not an integral part of the social fabric of the community they are sworn to serve and protect. Residents in turn tacitly condone the lumpen elements that engage in criminal activity by adhering to the “no snitch” code. The end result is anxiety, fear, misunderstanding, and social deterioriation amidst a backdrop of technological change that in some ways has broad people together in ways previously unimaginable.

    We can create mobile devices that connect people on different sides of the world. However, we can’t create a social compact that connect people and institutions in low-income communities in a way that allows for social progress and community renewal. We need visionaries and tacticians who can help bring about such change.

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