‘Shock’ in Chinese Community over Liang Conviction

Peter Liang (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Peter Liang (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

[Editor’s note: On Feb. 11, Peter Liang was found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct in the death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, on Nov. 20, 2014. Liang was a rookie NYPD officer on patrol with his partner in the stairwell of a NYCHA apartment building in Brooklyn, when the bullet he shot struck Gurley, 28, in the chest. His girlfriend testified that while she attempted CPR, Liang did nothing to help Gurley.

The Chinese community in New York has followed the case with interest, and some worried that Liang would become a “scapegoat,” in the wake of cases of police officers not being indicted for killing unarmed Black men. The following story in Sing Tao Daily was written by Rong Xiaoqing, Fan Chen, April Xu and Lu Li.]

The conviction of Chinese-American police officer Peter Liang was like a bomb dropped into the Chinese community. Many people who have been following the case said they are “extremely shocked” and find the conviction “hard to comprehend.” Many say race played a major role in the verdict and that it clearly shows that the Chinese are still a weak group.

John Chan, general director of the Coalition of Asian Americans for Civil Rights (CAACR), has been attending the court hearings every day over the past three weeks. He said he was very disappointed in the verdict, and he thought the case revealed the unfairness in the justice system. Chan pointed out Liang’s partner Shaun Landau didn’t help the victim at the scene and, therefore, should also be held accountable. But Landau was not even indicted. And the assistant district attorney distorted the facts in the closing argument and indicated that Liang killed Gurley intentionally.

Chan said the CAACR will keep raising money for Liang to pay off the legal fees. It will also organize a parade to protest against the unfairness in this case. “Peter is not only the son of the Liang family but also a child of the Chinese community. As Chinese, by supporting him we are also trying to create a fairer judicial environment for our younger generations,” he said.

Douglas Lee, once a candidate for the State Assembly in District 16 which includes part of Long Island and Flushing, said Liang’s conviction is completely a “racial issue.” He said since 1999 there have been 179 citizen deaths caused by the police. Only in three incidents were the responsible police officers indicted, and only one was convicted. The latter case involved the police chasing after the victim and killing him by mistake. It was totally different from Liang’s case. “Liang’s case was an accident that’s totally unexpected,” said Lee.

Yiping Wu, who participated in the protest last March of thousands of Chinese near City Hall following Liang’s indictment, said normally for highly sensitive cases like this one, if the result is not in the interest of African Americans, the authorities would dispatch more police to the court to prepare for a riot. This time they didn’t do much.

“This means they know we Chinese are weak, we won’t protest in the extreme way, and they don’t even have to fortify the police force for us,” said Wu. “I am speechless. This is the coldest winter and the saddest Lunar New Year for the Chinese.”

Speak with the Ballots

Justin Yu, president of the New York Chapter of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association, said in a written statement: “We are outraged by the verdict. We believe the jury made an unfair and incorrect verdict under the pressure from the prosecutors and the family of the victim.”

He said: “There were very few non-Chinese police officers indicted while serving their duty. But the grand jury, under pressure from the tension between the public and the police as well as the political environment at that time, decided to indict Liang. The white police officers who caused the death of African American Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted. And protests were growing nationwide. Officer Liang became a scapegoat of these two cases then. Unfortunately, he once again became a scapegoat of the social conflicts of America today.”

Peter Tu, executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, said since the incident happened, Liang and his family have been under pressure as enormous as the victim’s family. But the care and assistance offered to the Liangs from society, the government and the NYPD are far from enough. He said if this is what happens to a police officer who has an accident while serving his duty, many other police officers who risk their lives for the safety of the city and the country will be disappointed.

“If the city and the NYPD cannot offer proper assistance to Liang and his family, it will have a negative impact on those who are thinking of joining the police force. And eventually it will be the loss of all New Yorkers,” he said.

“All the evidence displayed in court showed that this was an accident. I think the jury’s verdict is incomprehensible,” said Jerry Lo, a Long Island activist who has been attending the hearings. He said Liang was clearly crushed by politics. But the law is the law. Chinese people who want to help Liang have to do it within the legal system. So it is urgent now to raise money and help Liang to appeal. “I hope the Chinese working in the legal field can extend a hand in anyway they can,” he said.

Lo also said Liang’s verdict was a loud slap on the face of the Chinese. It should awaken the community. “Have we as voters really used our ballots well to fight for our interest? If we don’t flex our political muscles, we’ll always be victimized,” said Lo.

[A separate story written by April Xu reported on CAAAV’s response.]

The CAAAV, the only Chinese community organization supporting Liang’s indictment last year, issued a statement saying the organization’s mission is to hold the system accountable. And government, police, predatory landlords and employers all belong to the system. “CAAAV believes that this case means that we need to unite to hold all officers accountable and that we all need to fight to hold our District Attorneys accountable to also prosecute white officers,” said the statement.

Council member Margaret Chin who also supported Liang’s indictment didn’t make a comment by press time.

[A story in the World Journal by Mengzi Gao captured the despair of Liang and his family after the conviction. Here is an excerpt:]

John Chan, general director of the Coalition of Asian Americans for Civil Rights who has been accompanying Peter Liang’s mother to court, said that when the verdict was read, Liang covered his face and cried. And the mother started shaking and her hands were ice cold. She was only able to stand up with the help of friends.

“I drove the mother home. She had been crying all the way helplessly,” said Chan. The wife of Liang, who was not present in court, called her mother-in-law to ask the verdict. When she heard the word “lost,” the wife started to howl loudly. “I have seen many tragic scenes. Still when I saw the two women crying together over a cell phone, I couldn’t hold back my tears either,” said Chan.

Chan said the mother also answered a phone call from Liang’s father on the way home. The father is a low profile and quiet man as is his son. His reaction was silence. “Father Liang is a cook toiling in the kitchen of a restaurant. Like father, like son, they both are soft spoken and tender people. They don’t even have a temper,” said Chan.

Chan said the father didn’t show up in court because he had to go to work and make money for Liang’s legal fees. And he learned the verdict during work. “Although he kept silent, you could hear his despair from his breath.”

Later in the night, mother Liang drove out to look for her son who just had a breakdown and didn’t want to go back home. “Peter didn’t answer my call and didn’t talk. The police officers who accompanied him said he looked like a zombie. He not only didn’t want to go back home, but also was inclined to hurt himself. Mother Liang also said the media corps and the crowd of African Americans stationed in front of her house after the verdict drove her crazy.

Close to midnight, Liang finally gave a call to Chan. “It is so hard. What can I do?” His words were broken several times by his own sobs.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for this article. It helps raise some questions that need to be addressed.

    Was Officer Liang treated differently by the PBA because he is Chinese and not of Irish or Italian ancestry? I do not know and I cannot speculate. That could be a question to pose to Patrick Lynch, although I am doubtful that he will provide an honest answer.

    Will the verdict create tensions between African Americans and the Chinese who live in New York? It remains to be seen.

    African Americans may perceive their Chinese counterparts as very insular and suspicious of those who don’t look like them. By the same token, few African Americans understand that the Chinese are not a monolithic people. Geography and class do greatly shape the Chinese, and perhaps even what some of us so-called westerners could consider to be race, as there are the Han and Mongol Chinese, not to mention other groups that by western standards would represent a racial or ethnic category.

    Many Chinese may conversely see African Americans as disjointed, dysfunctional, and chaotic. Their views may be distorted by what they see in mainstream media and by their limited interactions with people of African descent. A Chinese merchant or take-out restaurant owner, for example, may only encounter sometimes ill-mannered African American teens on a regular basis. However, teens of all backgrounds are sometimes ill-mannered.

    The Chinese merchant or take-out restaurant owner may not now about Chinese political leaders in the early 1970s meeting with members of the Black Panther Party before Mao Tse-Tung met with President Nixon. When African Americans saw members of the Black Panthers meeting with Chinese political leadership, it was a great source of pride for many of African Americans. It was also seen as an expression of international political solidarity by the highest echelon of Chinese political leadership.

    The Chinese merchant or take-out restaurant owner may not know that many African American high school and college students in the 1970s read Mao’s “Red Book” or that many African Americans, regardless of their politics, value the wisdom of Lao Tzu and others in the ancient Taoist tradition. There are many African Americans who value the Tao de Ching and the I Ching as great spiritual and philosophical works. The teachings of these volumes help guide their lives.

    What happened in the stairwell that led to the death of Akai Gurley, the prosecution of Officer Liang, and the firing of Officers Liang and Landau is tragic all the way around. Mr. Gurley is dead. While Messieurs Liang and Landau are alive, they are disgraced. On all accounts, much healing must take place. Healing is something that is part of all peoples’ traditions. Perhaps it is the healing where we should place our energy moving forward.

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