After the murders of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, City Council member Margaret Chin has come under criticism from many of her Chinese constituents for her earlier call for the indictment of Chinese police officer Peter Liang in an unrelated case.
Chin said on Dec. 23 that she doesn’t only represent Chinese, and that her opinion on Liang’s case hasn’t changed and will not change because of the deaths of Liu and Ramos. But even her colleague, the other Chinese council member, Peter Koo, doesn’t support her. “Whether to indict (Liang) or not, should be decided by the grand jury. We council members don’t have to release an immediate statement on everything,” he said.
Chin and Koo are the only two Chinese council members on the City Council. Because of their common background, their names are often talked about together in the Chinese community. But Chin, a die-hard Democrat and Koo, a die-hard Republican who only transferred to the Democratic Party strategically before his reelection last year, couldn’t be more different. And their differences are clear in their responses to recent conflicts between the public and the police.
After Liang, a rookie cop, shot to death an unarmed African American by accident while on patrol, Koo remained silent. Chin issued a statement after it was announced that a grand jury would be impaneled to review evidence on the case.
The statement triggered some criticism from members of the Chinese community immediately, and that criticism intensified after Liu and Ramos’s death shocked the community. On mitbbs.com, an online chatting room popular among members of the Chinese diaspora, someone with the username “renzaimg” wrote: “A Chinese council member should understand new immigrants’ concerns. We Chinese all want to try our best to help officer Liang get out of trouble. How can you call for his indictment before politicians from other communities said a word?” Another user, “kevinwang” said: “Don’t stand with the Chinese. Is this the (obscenity) way Chinese politicians are?” And “laodaniang” wrote: “As a Chinese, to be accepted by the mainstream means you have to stay away from other Chinese. This is basically what the ‘Chinese elites’ think.”
Chin appeared at a press conference held by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for the fallen police officers. Often wearing red clothes, Chin was clad in black and grey. It was not an accident. Chin said she chose the subdued outfit to express her condolences. She said her office got some phone calls from constituents who didn’t agree with her on the Liang case, but not too many. And she is happy to get these phone calls. “Chinese normally don’t like to speak out. If they call me and tell me what they think, it is a good thing. This is what democracy should be,” said Chin.
Chin said she still thinks Liang should be indicted. “When a police officer kills someone, no matter for what reason, he or she should be indicted. Indicting doesn’t mean he or she is guilty. It only will put him or her in the court’s investigation. This is also a process of democracy,” said Chin.
As for the criticism for not helping Chinese, Chin said New York is a diverse city. Not all Chinese people live in Chinatown and people living in Chinatown are not all Chinese. She doesn’t only represent Chinese. And Chinese people should also learn to understand their multiracial neighbors so they can look at things from broader perspectives.
When asked whether some people might attribute her election to the Council to the enthusiastic support of her Chinese constituents, Chin said: “I won the election not because I am a Chinese, but because of my record. I served in the community for decades. People know who I am.” She also called on the Chinatown leadership to work together to help Chinese residents understand the diversity of the city. “We should see ourselves as New Yorkers,” she said.
Koo didn’t attend the Speaker’s press conference due to a doctor’s appointment. But he said in a phone interview that people should put aside their differences now and show respect to the families of the two fallen officers. In the future, the most important thing is to mend the relationship between the public and the police. He said both the police and the community need to work on this. The former should learn in police school how to work with the community. And the latter should realize that the police are there to help them.
When asked about the criticism against Chin, Koo said: “We Council members don’t have to immediately comment on everything. We are not Al Sharpton. Liang’s case should be left to the grand jury. It took the grand jury a few months to make a decision on Eric Garner’s case. So it should take some time on Liang’s case.”
Koo also said that in the Liang case, the police department, which sent two rookie cops to patrol together, and the [New York City] Housing Authority, which didn’t provide enough lights on the stairway, should all be blamed. Liang shouldn’t take the responsibility alone.