NYPD Officer indicted for manslaughter sees growing online support

World Today

New York City rookie police officer Peter Liang, center, leaves the courtroom after he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment at Brooklyn Superior court, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

An online petition at Whitehouse.gov to withdraw a manslaughter indictment against New York police officer Peter Liang has gained 120,618 signatures so far.

Petition signers are asking that the Brooklyn District Attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson withdraw the indictment against Liang for killing 28-year-old Akai Gurley on Nov. 20, 2014. Liang said his gun went off accidentally in a darkened stairwell. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley in the chest, killing him.

Supporters said that Liang, who is Chinese-American, is being used as a scapegoat at a time when the New York Police Department is facing criticism for being insensitive to people of color, such as the choking death of Eric Garner. Gurley was African-American.

The petition reads: “the circumstances surrounding Mr. Gurley’s death lead to a manslaughter indictment this week, whereas police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner case were never charged. Criminal charges appeared more likely in the later two cases, but these two non-Asian Police Officers were never charged.”

Liang has also gained considerable support on WeChat, a mobile app that allows for texting and voice messaging developed by the Chinese company Tencent. Many WeChat users have denounced Liang’s indictment saying Liang is being sacrificed for prior cases involving people of color against the NYPD.

“The climate is crying out for the indictment of a police officer,” Phil Gim, a businessman in Whitestone Queens, told the New York Times.

Liang was indicted on Feb. 10 and pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, official misconduct, criminally negligent homicide, and assault. He was released without bail.

The case was closely watched following the mass protests and calls for reform of the grand jury system after a New York City grand jury’s refusal to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, and a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict a white officer in the death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old who was also unarmed.

His indictment is the first in more than two years in regards to a civilian being shot and killed by the NYPD, Vice Magazine reported.

Rev. Al Sharpton called for Liang’s indictment, making the comparison to this case with that of Garber’s. Sharpton said he’d spoken to Brooklyn’s District Attorney, Kenneth Thompson, about the case, Vice Magazine also reported.

Gurley was killed on Nov. 20 while visiting a public housing complex in Brooklyn’s gritty East New York neighborhood to get his hair braided. Liang had less than two years on the job, including his time at the police academy.

He and his partner were patrolling a public housing complex in Brooklyn where reports of violent crime had spiked. The hallways were “pitch black,” and Liang had his gun drawn as they descended onto an eighth-floor landing, police said after the shooting. Meanwhile, Gurley opened the door into the seventh-floor landing after giving up his wait for an elevator. Liang was about 10 feet (3 meters) from Gurley when, without a word and apparently by accident, he fired a shot, police said. Gurley made it down two flights of stairs before collapsing. He was taken to a hospital where he later died.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said he would convene a grand jury to investigate, and the results came back less than three months after the shooting, about the time it takes grand juries to consider other criminal cases.

Grand juries consider only whether there’s probable cause to bring criminal charges, not whether there’s evidence to merit conviction. The proceedings are closed to the public.

Even before the shooting, the New York Police Department had been changing how it assigns and trains new officers. Under former Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYPD assigned rookie officers as reinforcements in parts of the city that have seen increases in crime.

Under William Bratton, new officers are no longer funneled into high-crime precincts as extra manpower, but instead are assigned mentors who are more experienced officers and rotate through different jobs at precincts. Bratton has said the retooling process is taking time but is moving forward.

Story compiled with information from CCTV America, AP, New York Times, and Vibe Magazine reports.