NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Thousands of protesters have rallied in New York and around the country in support of a former police officer who was convicted of manslaughter for a shooting in a housing project stairwell.

A crowd of 10,000 rallied in Brooklyn on Saturday to protest former officer Peter Liang’s conviction in the 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley.

“It’s one of the largest turnouts I’ve seen in a long time,” State Senator Martin J. Golden, of Brooklyn, told WCBS 880.

Liang, 28, could be sentenced to 5 to 15 years for shooting Gurley, who was unarmed.

Liang testified that the shooting was an accident. Many of his supporters say they believe Liang is being scapegoated because of anger over other police shootings. Upon being convicted of a felony, Liang was automatically terminated from the NYPD.

Some say he has been treated unfairly because he is Asian-American. 

The mostly Asian American crowd of protesters held a large American flag during a moment of silence for the victim, CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported.

“Akai Gurley’s death is a tragedy and we feel for him and his family… this is not about race, this is about equal justice for all,” Don Lee, a community activist, told CBS2.

A smaller counter-protest in support of Gurley was held across the street. Police officers said they did all they could to keep the groups separate, but tempers did flare at times.

Sen. Golden issued a statement on Saturday in solidarity with the protesters.

“Today, I join with my fellow New Yorkers in recognizing that the accidental death of Akai Gurley was a horrible tragedy which has devastated all involved,” Golden said in a statement. “The rallies taking place throughout our City and Nation are bringing the voices of many Asian-Americans to the front lines of the debate around justice in America.”

Golden said the rallies were held to express a “frustration” held by many across the nation.

Organizers said rallies took place in more than 30 cities in the U.S. Saturday including Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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