By Elaine Dunn
The local Chinese community under the direction and organization of the Minnesota Chinese Association (MCA) joined in a nationwide rally that took place on Feb. 20 in more than 40 other major U.S. cities in support of ex-NYPD Officer Peter Liang. Liang was found guilty on Feb. 11 of second-degree manslaughter of Akai Gurley, a young, unarmed black male. Nationwide rallies drew more than 1,000,000 participants and took place in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Raleigh, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. amongst others.
The Minnesota rally took place at Saint Paul’s State Capitol Lower Mall. Approximately 300 demonstrators, mostly Chinese Americans, waved American flags and carried a variety of signs that proclaimed “Justice for Liang, Justice for All!” “Justice-Yes, Politics No,” “No Scapegoat!” “Tragedy Not Crime!” "One Tragedy Two Victims.” The local rally participants also signed a petition that will be sent to Brooklyn Judge Danny Chun, a fellow Asian American whom some in the Asian communities felt may “feel compelled to levy a harsh sentence so he can’t be accused of being soft on another Asian.”
Liang, a 28-year-old rookie cop and his partner Shaun Landau were patrolling an unlit stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing project on Nov. 20, 2014, when the tragic shooting occurred. Startled by a noise, Liang accidentally discharged his gun and the bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley, who died from the wound. Police records showed neither officer knew someone had been hit for another four minutes.
In addition to manslaughter, Liang also faces a litany of other charges ranging from second-degree reckless endangerment to official misconduct, based on the fact he did not administer CPR to Gurley. (In his own defense, Liang stated he had not been properly trained to administer CPR, a fact substantiated by Landau.)
Liang’s conviction stood in stark contrast to many other cases across the country in which police has been accused of killing unarmed black victims. His verdict carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Sentencing takes place April 14. In return for his testimony, Liang’s partner Landau was never criminally charged. Both Liang and Landau have since been fired.
The guilty verdict against Liang is viewed by many, and especially in the Asian community, as unfair.
Frank H. Wu, professor of law at University of California Hastings College of Law, San Francisco, wrote in a Feb. 13 Huffington Post Opinion piece, called Liang “a scapegoat,” a fall guy sacrificed for the sins of others:
The problem for Asian Americans, as for others, is we cannot control how we appear on the stage of a tragedy that has been playing since well before our arrival. We have been cast against our will, as a model minority until we are not. We cannot help but seem to have come only lately, despite Asians being here in significant numbers since before the Civil War. Perceived as perpetual foreigners who are not quite members of the community, we are an easy target.
Race infuriates all of us. It becomes difficult to reason, to remember that principles are only principles if they are applied universally.
Liang should not receive a pass, because he happens to be a minority himself. But he shouldn't be subjected to selective prosecution either, or a sentence that makes him an example. He ought to be treated like others … How strange, how wrong, it is, that the face picked to represent police brutality toward blacks is yellow.
The question of whether Liang should have been indicted at all in the first place last February has brought Asian Americans into a national debate concerning the role police officers have played in incidents involving civilian deaths, especially those involving young black males.
Doug Lee, co-chairperson of the Coalition of Asian-Americans for Civil Rights, said in 2015 that, “If it was not for Ferguson (Missouri, Michael Brown shooting) and not for Staten Island (New York, Eric Garner choke hold death), Peter Liang might not have been indicted."
At a March 8, 2015, rally in New York City, Shua Mu Lin drove from Connecticut “to support Peter Liang” said, “The manslaughter charge, that’s not really fair. He (Liang) shouldn’t receive this kind of treatment. It’s discrimination against Chinese people … White [officers] haven’t faced this when they’ve killed people.”
To wit, the November 2015 incident where a Caucasian police officer in Paradise, Calif., shot the driver of a vehicle that had flipped over in the course of a police chase. The dash cam video showed the officer aimed and “accidentally” fired a single shot at the driver who was struggling to climb out the window of the overturned vehicle. The driver fell back into the vehicle after the shot. Eleven minutes later, the officer was heard telling his commander, “I don’t think I shot him … but the gun did go off.” The driver died a few weeks later. Initially, the county attorney refused to press charges and a Grand Jury will not investigate the fatal shooting (recent state law bars grand juries from investigating deadly police shootings). However, as of Feb. 18, the officer has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The national rally organizations hope to raise funds for Liang’s legal proceedings. Part of the funds also will be donated to Gurley’s family. Shuigen Xiao, head of the Greater Washington for Peter Liang Coordination Group, a new voluntary organization, described both Gurley and Liang as victims. In a news conference on Feb. 17 in Fairfax, Virginia, he said he hoped the rallies on Feb 20 would warrant a fairer treatment for Liang.
There are also those who have maintained that the indictment was just and that Liang must be held accountable. The argument that the Caucasian officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases were not indicted does not justify Laing not being indicted. Should the fact that Liang also happens to be Asian American make any difference in whether he should have been indicted and, now, found guilty?
Whichever side you fall on, perhaps the Liang case will ignite conversations within Asian American communities about the elephant in the room: when and how one should get involved in ensuring fairness within our judicial system.
To get involved and to get additional information about the Peter Liang case, visit http://savepeterliang.org. To sign a petition requesting leniency in sentencing, visit www.change.org/p/danny.
Editor’s Note: See additional comments in the Publisher’s Pronouncements on p. 2.
The MCA was initiated by a group of Asian Americans to support rallies for Officer Liang and to promote cultural development and equity in the greater Twin Cities area. It is not political nor religious-oriented.