More than 300 people, including about 20 from Gainesville, rallied Saturday for Peter Liang in front of Orlando city hall.
Liang, a Chinese-American New York Police Department officer convicted of manslaughter, had supporters Saturday in 40 cities nationwide. Liang, 28, was found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, 28. Gurley died because of a ricocheting bullet fired from Liang’s gun in November 2014.
Many Chinese Americans are upset about the sentence because they believe that he had been targeted for prosecution because of his race. Liang was immediately fired after his conviction and faces a sentence of up to 15 years.
Protesters carried American flags and signs like “Justice not Politics,” “One Tragedy, Two Victims,” and “Equal Justice, No scapegoating.”
Chunan Chen, 70, and Jianli Wu, 62, live in Orlando and said they choose to hold the signs of “One tragedy, two victims” because these signs represent exactly what they want to demonstrate.
Wu said she and her husband Chen felt grieved for Akai Gurley’s family. Still, she said she hoped the rally would help the U.S. listen more to the voice of the Chinese-American community.
“We do not want to become scapegoats, and we certainly do not want our future generations to become scapegoats,” she said.
Chen, who has worked in education for more than 40 years, said 15 years is too much of a sentence for an accidental shooting.
“No matter what skin colors we have, it is important to solve the problems peacefully and have some mutual understandings for each other,” he said.
Hongjun Zheng, the organizer of the Orlando rally and the president of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association – Central Florida Chapter, started the rally with a prayer for both Liang and Gurley.
After introducing the background information about Liang’s case, Zheng said the rally hoped to ask for “fair justice” for Liang.
“It is a tragedy, but it is not a crime,” he said.
The rally consisted of more than 10 speakers. Zheng said he started to organize the rally after Liang’s sentence. He said he hopes participants will take part in politics by voting in the future.
“Let us stop being indifferent and make voting to our habits,” he said.
Bo Chen, assistant professor at the University of Central Florida, started his speech by expressing sorrow for both Gurley and Liang; he then said people need to think more deeply about the case.
He said New York City Housing Authority should not have made the housing as dangerous as it was for the police and residents; the police union should have supported Liang as it had done to Officer Richard Neri, a police officer who killed Timothy Stansbury in 2004; and NYPD could have offered better training before sending police officers to dangerous zones, he said.
Chen cited a series of examples, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese Internment camp, and the tragedy of Vincent Chin to show Asian Americans why they should be more vocal.
“Asian Americans, don’t be silent no more!” he said. “It was your silence that made you the easy target to blame when things did not run the way others wanted.”
Xiaojing Zou came to the Orlando rally from Gainesville. She said she has not woken up so early for years, but she had to because of the rally in Orlando.
Wade Hsu, organizer of the Gainesville contingent, said Liang is not totally innocent and could have helped save Gurley’s life.
“The meaning of life is to think of your next generations,” he said. “Hopefully, our kids will not be afraid to become police officers because of Liang’s case.”