Liang Case Triggers a Conversation Between Two Communities 

The March 28 forum was held at the New York City Bar Association. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

The March 28 forum was held at the New York City Bar Association. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

The Peter Liang case, in which the Chinese former NYPD officer was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of African American Akai Gurley, put the Asian community and the African American community under the same spotlight. But what happens between the two communities cannot be defined only by protests and anger. There is also communication. At a forum entitled “Race Relations and Collaboration between Asian American and African American Communities After the Peter Liang Case,” held on March 28 at the New York City Bar Association, leaders from the two communities said they all need to do better in highlighting the common struggles of both communities. And people in both communities shouldn’t only focus on an individual case, but should explore the issues on which they can work together in the long run.

The forum, co-hosted by the Asian American Business Development Center and One Hundred Black Men, presented different views. For example, both Sandra Leung, board member of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, senior community organizer of the NAACP Legal Defense Education Fund, said they support Liang’s indictment and conviction. But Leung believed this is only an individual case and the majority of police have done a good job in protecting the people, and Akinwole-Bandele said in general the way police patrol white neighborhoods is different from how they patrol in communities of color. “Until we develop a system to hold the police accountable, a barbecue, a cook out (with police officers), none of those would save our lives,” he said.

Then there were well-intentioned jabs about stereotypes. When Korean American Assembly member Ron Kim mentioned the numbers of years that have passed since the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese Americans in his speech, he saluted former Comptroller John Liu who sat in the first row of the audience. “Did I get the math right, John?” And before Liu said anything, the moderator quipped: “Why did you ask an Asian a math question?” which was followed by friendly laughter from the audience.

But serious thoughts were offered by speakers about the differences between the communities and the issues they share in common, as well as valuable suggestions for building collaboration.

Leung said there are two different opinions within the Asian community concerning Liang. Some believe he was scapegoated. Others believe it was right to indict and convict Liang, and just because white police officers were let go in similar situations doesn’t mean Asian cops should get the same treatment. Leung confessed she belongs to the latter group.

She said Liang’s supporters have the right to protest for him, but “I don’t think there are two victims. The only victim is the dead Black man,” said Leung. Meanwhile, she said African Americans shouldn’t make this a test case for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Unlike other enforcement violence cases “there was no confrontation between Liang and Gurley,” said Leung. “This is a case of police accountability.”

Kim reminded the audience there is no such a thing as Asian privilege in the U.S. Asians suffer from mistreatment just like other minorities. And Asian Americans are often considered foreigners and therefore suffer from double oppression. For example, Gov. Cuomo introduced a series of tough regulations targeting nail salons, which are mainly Asian-owned, although there is no data showing exploitation is worse in this industry than any other industries.

“The Peter Liang case is not just about Peter Liang. It’s about the prevalent mistreatment of Asian Americans that stem from dangerous stereotypes,” said Kim. “They (the Asian protesters) are not asking for white privilege. They are standing up to the double standards the community has long suffered from.” Kim also said the African American community should let go of the notion that Asians are foreigners in this country, and Asians must overcome their own mindset contributing to the model minority myth and be more active in community work to rewrite the rules.

Akinwole-Bandele said the opinions on Liang’s case are diverse in both communities, and there are Liang supporters in the African American community too. But the two communities can still support each other on many cases. “We should do a better job to highlight our collaborations,” he said.

Walter Mosley, an African American Assembly member who has worked with Kim on many issues including education and immigration and whose wife is half Korean, said the misunderstanding or conflicts between the two communities are largely due to the insufficient knowledge of history among young people. “We presume young people get fast information these days so they are educated of the history,” said Mosley. “We have to make sure they understand there is a history behind that anger.”

Peter Kwong, professor of Asian American Studies at Hunter College, agreed. He said the Asian population has grown quickly in New York and this brings more competition between Asians and African Americans in many areas, from public sector jobs to public housing. New Asian immigrants don’t necessarily understand the oppression African Americans suffered in history. And Black community leaders don’t talk about issues concerning Asians openly to avoid being blamed for “immigrant bashing.” “Some people like to say this (the conflicts) is all a misunderstanding. But I want to say there is much more ignorance from both sides of each other.”

Jacques DeGraff, associate pastor at Canaan Baptist Church, opened his remarks by repeating three times “Black lives matter.” But he also noted hate is rising all around the globe. “When hate rises, everyone is affected. Hate doesn’t distinguish between ‘I just got here’ and ‘I’ve been here for hundreds of years’,” said Rev. DeGraff. “My pain is not greater than your pain. We are in this together.”

 

A sidebar story, also by Rong Xiaoqing, found that some audience members have mixed opinions on the prospect of reconciliation and collaboration between the two communities:

Doug Lee, an organizer of the protest against Liang’s conviction on Feb. 20 who once ran for the State Assembly on Long Island, said he was a little disappointed by the forum. “The speakers are all opinion leaders in the communities. But they don’t seem to have understood the feelings of ordinary people. In Liang’s case an African American is dead, and an Asian police officer was convicted. How do we reconcile?” said Lee. “The speakers talked a lot about common interests and long-term goals. But they failed to offer a specific plan to solve the current crisis.”

Former Comptroller John Liu was more positive. He said it is possible to build up collaboration between the two communities. But now people are too emotional and focus too much on the extremists. Indeed, the majority in both communities are objective and reasonable on Liang’s case. Liu reminded the African American community that the oppression of Asians may not be the same scale as that against African Americans, but it doesn’t mean Asians are not oppressed. Meanwhile, he called for the Asian protesters to be careful with the words they choose. Slogans like “Justice for Peter Liang” and “All lives matter” are not appropriate, said Liu. “Communication needs proper words,” he said. “When you use proper words, it’s not about political correctness, but about historic context.”

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