By John Liu
Northwest Asian Weekly
On Feb. 20, a rally protesting the recent conviction of 28-year-old New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Peter Liang, who shot and killed an unarmed Black man, Akai Gurley, also 28, started peacefully at the Westlake Downtown Park. More than 500 people showed up to the rally at 1:00 p.m.
At the start of the rally, there was one counter-rally supporter of Liang’s conviction who was vocal in the audience. This person foreshadowed what was about to happen.
The counter-rallier aligned herself with the Black Lives Matter movement — though that’s not to say that Black Lives Matter allies and Peter Liang conviction protesters are mutually exclusive.
On Feb. 12, Liang was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Gurley. Liang’s sentence is expected to be up to 15 years. He will be sentenced April 14. Across the nation, Gurley and Liang supporters both want justice.
Gurley supporters, many of whom are Black, have invoked images of slavery and racism for hundreds of years. Liang supporters, many of whom are Chinese, have spoke of similar history of racism.
In a general sense, while on different sides of this particular issue, both groups do agree that the U.S. criminal justice system has failed people of color. Many have pointed out that white police officers have rarely been convicted in similar cases.
The Seattle rally
Local Chinese American community representatives spoke during the rally, which included community representatives, Ethnic Chamber of Commerce President Martha Lee, Bellevue Councilmember Conrad Lee, and Washington state lieutenant governor candidate Phillip Yin. During one of the Seattle Chinese Alliances for Equality speaker’s remarks, a group of about 10 Gurley supporters pushed their way through the crowd and onto the stage.
A struggle to gain control of the microphone quickly ensued. Each group used loud voices and tried to drown out the other side. Eventually there was a compromise and the counter-ralliers spoke for five minutes.
Both groups shouted, “We want justice.”
Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers stood next to the stage in case violence broke out. There were no arrests and the counter-ralliers left peacefully. The rest of the program finished without incident. At 2 p.m., the protesters marched down 4th Ave S. to Komo Plaza snarling traffic for about 20 minutes.
A city divided
The Westlake Downtown Park rally was one of two rallies in Seattle planned in which thousands rallied nationwide to protest Liang’s manslaughter conviction.
Richard Chen and Winston Lee, Seattle Chinese Alliances for Equality (SCAE) members, helped organize the rallies in Seattle.
The counter-protest was organized by local activist Palca Shibale. Before the demonstrations, Shibale’s group had initiated dialogue with the Seattle Chinese Alliances for Equality for time to deliver their own message at the rally.
Shibale stated, “After hours of dialogue and debate, no one was moved. So with 24 hours to go before the [Westlake Park] rally, Seattle Black Book Club and Parisol partnered up for a counter-rally that we intended to structure for cross dialogue. However, when we got there, organizers would not even allow us to speak without censoring the message. We were not allowed to say, ‘Peter Liang is a killer,’ or any sort of words that might humanize Akai too much that he overshadows Liang.”
Earlier in the day, around 200 people showed up to the first rally at Hing Hay park at noon. The audience was filled with mostly Chinese community members and seniors supporting Liang. They held signs like “Equal justice for all. No scapegoat. No silence.”
Many supporters said they believed it was a good turnout for a rally in Chinatown.
Peter Liang supporter and rally speaker Martha Lee stated, “The Chinese American community rose to the occasion and successfully organized a nationwide rally in over 40 cities to support a Chinese American NYPD officer convicted of a felony for an accident during the performance of his duties. The Seattle rally was a peaceful and respectful rally which demonstrated the growing and vocal presence of the Asian American community. … I think this is the beginning of a journey for Asian Americans to voice their opinion over matters that affect their lives.”
And there are those who thought the outcome was fair, like Nate Miles, a member of Seattle’s NAACP chapter. He said, “Most police officers are doing a good job. Every now and then, there’s a police officer that does bad things just as there are citizens who occasionally break the law also. Everyone gets their day in court, and you hope the system works the way it should.” (end)
John Liu can be reached at email@example.com.