What We Can Learn from the Conviction of Peter Liang

Photo courtesy of centrictv.com and nypost.com | Liang's conviction has incited protests by both the African American and Asian American communities.

Photo courtesy of centrictv.com and nypost.com | Liang’s conviction has incited protests by both the African American and Asian American communities.

Sunnie Yi Ning ’18
Contributing Writer 

On Nov. 20, 2014, NYPD officer Peter Liang and his partner, both rookies, were patrolling the Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn. Liang opened a door into an unlit stairwell and his gun went off. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit 28-year-old Akai Gurley, piercing his heart. Liang and his partner failed to help the victim’s girlfriend rescue him. Later, jurors found Liang guilty of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct, which could result in up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

This conviction has led to controversial responses from the black and Asian communities. Most supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement felt satisfied with the conviction, believing that it signals a change in the status quo of devaluing black lives is changing and that it is the first step towards a more just treatment of black people. Many think that justice has been served in this case.

Many Asians, however, see the conviction as a tragic accident in which Liang was unfairly used as a scapegoat to pacify the nation-wide outrage against police violence toward black men.

I do not wish to discuss the details of the case or whether the police officer’s action deserves the conviction. I do wish, however, to discuss the political nature of the case: the highly present racial double standards in our society.

Here are some facts in the context of police violence that might make us better understand where the Asian Americans’ bitterness about Liang’s case come from. At least 179 civilians have been killed by on-duty NYPD officers in the last 15 years; until this point, only three had ever been indicted. Most of these police officers are white and male. In the tragic and outrageous case of Eric Garner, Daniel Pantaleo, the white male police officer who put Garner in a chokehold and directly caused his death, was not charged. However, his black female supervisor, Kizzy Adinos, was found guilty of disciplinary charges for “failure to supervise.” Also, when Pantaleo killed Garner, Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, offered a blustery defense. In Akai Gurley’s case, however, Lynch released only a neutral statement saying that Liang was entitled to legal defense. These contrasts clearly show the racial double standards in the way that police violence is viewed and handled: The white officers will be excused, the minorities – Kizzy Adinos and Liang – will not.

Asian Americans may not suffer from the same kind of racial discrimination that black Americans are facing on a daily basis, but they also face the reality of living in a society shaped by the deeply entrenched forces of white supremacy. The indictment of Liang sends a clear signal to Asian Americans that the law and political environment is not the same for the whites as it is for the Asians. They cannot help but ask: what would be different if Liang were white? If his parents were not immigrants? The nation-wide support for Liang in Asian American communities shows that many have realized the intrinsic biases against all minorities.

The judgment disguised the immense injustice of white supremacy and racial discrimination, and unfairly direct the force against racial violence towards Asian Americans. True justice did not prevail. The anguish of this case is as Professor Frank H. Wu stated: “How strange, how wrong, it is, that the face picked to represent police brutality toward blacks is yellow.” This is why I do not call the conviction a step toward success or healing but a step towards further fracture between the black and Asian American communities.

I would like to remind both the black and Asian communities to look at the larger goal of both the Black Lives Matter Movement and the protest of Liang’s supporters: They are not just about black lives or Liang’s conviction. Rather, they are about fighting against the unjust weight of white supremacy that all minorities have to bear.

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