The manslaughter conviction of Peter Liang is awakening the nation’s normally quiescent Asian-American communities, where many view the guilty verdict against the former NYPD officer through the prism of race.
Demonstrations sprouted across the country over the weekend in support of the rookie cop who fired his weapon in the darkened stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project in 2014. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and fatally struck Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old black man.
In Brooklyn, Chinese demonstrators protested the conviction, holding placards reading, “One Tragedy, Two Victims” and “Equal Justice: No Scapegoats.” They were heckled by a group of mostly African Americans with placards that read: “Akai Gurley: Murdered by Peter Liang.”
On Thursday, hundreds of Chinese Americans visited the Lin Sing Association, a fraternal group in Chinatown, and donated money for Liang’s defense fund. Lin Sing Senior Director Eddie Chiu said 5,000 people signed petitions calling on Judge Danny Chun, who presided over Liang’s trial, to set aside the verdict and sentence Liang to probation. While the Asian Jade Society of police officers has called Liang’s conviction a referendum on law enforcement in general, many Asian-American demonstrators see Liang as a scapegoat. None of the white NYPD officers involved in the deaths of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx in 1999, Timothy Stansbury in another Brooklyn housing project in 2004 or Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014 has gone to prison. A jury acquitted cops in the Diallo case and state grand juries failed to indict cops in Stansbury’s and Garner’s deaths although a federal grand jury is hearing testimony in Garner’s case.
At Liang’s arraignment, Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson said, “We don’t believe that Officer Liang intended to kill Mr. Gurley. What the evidence showed is that this police officer put his finger on the trigger and fired that gun into a darkened stairwell when there was no threat.”
That interpretation appeared to change when in closing arguments at trial, prosecutor Joe Alexis said Liang had pointed his gun before firing, implying he fired deliberately at Gurley.
Liang’s conviction may make some feel that years of police brutality directed at blacks was avenged. But a prosecutor’s job isn’t merely to convict. It’s to do justice.