NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dozens of Chinese-Americans gathered at a court hearing on Thursday to support a New York City police officer charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, while others joined protesters outside who were demanding he be convicted.
Tensions among New York's Chinese-American community surfaced at state Supreme Court in Brooklyn, where Peter Liang, a 27-year-old rookie officer of Chinese descent, appeared at a pre-trial hearing in the manslaughter case.
Liang was charged in February in the death of Akai Gurley, 28, who police said was struck by a single bullet that discharged from the officer's gun as he patrolled a darkened stairwell in a Brooklyn housing project.
Outside court, dozens of Chinese-Americans joined a crowd of protesters, some waving signs in Mandarin that read "Justice for Akai Gurley" and others chanting what has become a rallying cry of a nationwide protests over police violence: "Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail."
Inside the courtroom, Queens businessman Phil Gim, 63, said the Liang criminal case is evidence of discrimination against the Chinese-American community. He noted the indictment charging Liang with six crimes came amid a string of other fatal encounters between police and unarmed black men, in which the officers - most of whom were white - were not charged.
"Why we feel it's scapegoating is the fact that of all the police incidents, this one is clearly an accident," said Gim, who was among the Chinese-Americans packed into the room.
Outside court, protester Esther Wang said she was there to push back on the "false narrative" that Liang is a scapegoat.
"For us it doesn't matter what the race of a police officer is, whether he's white or Asian American," Wang said.
In March, a month after Liang was indicted, thousands of Chinese-Americans rallied outside New York's City Hall against the grand jury action.
But those at the Brooklyn courthouse on Thursday appeared to be evenly split between those supporting Liang and those demanding he be held accountable for Gurley's death.
Judge Danny Chun set Liang's next court date for June 23.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Doina Chiacu