Thousands of Chinese Americans attended the Brooklyn protest march on Feb. 20 to show support for Peter Liang's cause. (Photo : YouTube)
Police accountability has become a dividing issue among Chinese Americans after the conviction of former New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer Peter Liang, Cathy Dang told NBC News.
Cathy Dang, the executive director of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV), was one of those who went to East New York to meet with people organizing on behalf of the family of Akai Gurley, the man accidentally shot by Liang, a few days after the incident.
According to the report, CAAAV, which was founded in 1986 to address police and hate violence toward Asian immigrants, has previously rallied behind civilians injured in police incidents, and Liang's case was no different except that the officer involved was Chinese American.
"When this happened, when Akai was killed in 2014, we thought it was important to make sure there was solidarity coming from allies, knowing that there's the issue of race that can become divisive in this particular case," Dang told NBC News. "But we knew that justice had to be won for Akai Gurley and his family."
Phil Gim, one of those who helped organize the Feb. 20 Brooklyn rally in support of Liang, said the shooting was a tragedy for both Gurley and Liang. Like thousands of those who attended nationwide demonstrations in over 30 cities that day, Gim also believes that Liang was sacrificed to compensate for white officers who were not indicted in other incidents such as that of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
"They want to make their voices heard about some of the things they find unfair or discriminatory," Gim told NBC News. "They're speaking up."
The guilty verdict for Liang on Feb. 11 for second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct has exposed a division in the way Chinese Americans view the former officer's prosecution and conviction, which, according to the report, is the result of generational differences between older immigrants and their children who grew up in the United States.
About a month later after the Liang incident, another Chinese American NYPD officer made headlines across the country. On Dec. 20, 2014, Wenjian Liu and his partner, Officer Rafael Ramos, were shot to death while sitting on a patrol car in Brooklyn.
The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley is a 28-year-old with a history of arrests. He committed suicide on a subway platform later that day, killing himself with the same gun he used on Liu and Ramos.
The report said that the two incidents were both reported extensively by Chinese media.
According to the report, most of Liang's supporters were from older Chinese American immigrants, who mostly communicated through WeChat.
"Chinese immigrants from China are the ones mainly out there because the organizers are mainly that," said Gim, who left Hong Kong for the U.S. in 1962 when he was 10.
"With the new wave of immigrants that have come, there's a change," Gim continued, adding that nowadays most hail from China, not Taiwan or Hong Kong. "They're here to make a life, and they're going through the same things we went through 40 years ago, about being equal."
Doug Lee, a member of the Greater New York Coalition for Supporting Officer Liang, emigrated from Hong Kong in 1970, explained it another way.
"The young Chinese generation do have local education, and they do tend to be taught more about police brutality and abuse," he said. "For the older generation, however, there's a lot more appreciation for law and order, particularly for people who have come from China who experienced older regimes that did not supply stability. That's why many of them are here."
Liang's supporters largely communicated through WeChat, which also allows users to participate in chat rooms. One of the most popular is "CivilRights平台－纽约－挺梁," which is now closed to new users because it has reached its limit.
Joe Wei, city-metro editor of the World Journal, a U.S. Chinese-language newspaper, told NBC News that many participants in the Feb. 20 Liang rallies were Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. during the last 20 years.