Several thousand Chinese Americans marched downtown Saturday to protest the conviction of New York police officer Peter Liang in the 2014 shooting death of an unarmed black man.
The Philadelphia march was one of several around the country in support of Liang, events that one protester called a "milestone" for the ethnic community. In Brooklyn, a crowd estimated at 10,000 rallied in support of the officer.
Liang, a 28-year-old Chinese American and a rookie officer, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter Feb. 11 for the 2014 death of Akai Gurley, who was shot by a ricocheting bullet as Liang entered a darkened stairwell. Liang, who faces up to 15 years in prison, testified the shooting was an accident.
Crowd estimates here ranged from 2,000 to 2,500 people, some of them parents pushing children in strollers or with their children walking alongside. Many held up signs saying "Tragedy Not Crime," "Scapegoat no more" and "One Tragedy, Two Victims." The protesters waved American flags along a route that lasted about two hours through Chinatown, Market East, and around City Hall.
Liang's conviction came after months of unrest in black communities around the nation over police shootings of unarmed black men and teenagers.
The protest was planned a week ago by about 12 individuals and organizations including the National Council of Chinese Americans and the Greater Philadelphia United Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce. The groups said that the rally was organized locally and nationally through WeChat, a communications service similar to WhatsApp used largely by the Chinese population.
Protesters said that though the Chinese community is usually one that keeps quiet, their united belief that Liang was wrongly convicted and "abandoned" by both the NYPD and legal system was enough to mobilize them in droves.
"This event is a new impression on Chinese," said Han Pan, the chairman of the government affairs committee for the National Council of Chinese Americans. "We're no longer the silent group of this society."
Twitter erupted with pushback in defense of Gurley. One user wrote, "Justice was served, go home," while another wrote, "Rest in [peace] to the innocent man he murdered. #AkaiGurley"
People involved made it clear they felt this was not an issue of race but rather injustice. Protesters expressed their condolences for Gurley and his family, while one protester said that Liang's case isn't comparable to the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., or the choke-hold death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York police officer.
Organizations also urged people to sign a letter addressed to Judge Danny Chun, who is scheduled to sentence Liang in April. The letter asks Chun to "set aside the illogical verdict handed down by the jury."
"This is going to make a big difference," said Sophia Li, 40, of Cherry Hill. "This is a milestone for the Chinese community. From all walks of life - restaurant workers, laundromat owners, everybody."
"This is one event that unites, glues people together," she added.