Peter Liang, Killer Cop or Chinese-American Scapegoat?

By Julianne Hing May 15, 2015

Peter Liang, the New York City police officer who was indicted for fatally shooting Akai Gurley last November, appeared in court Thursday.

Liang faced Judge Danny Chun in Brooklyn Supreme Court. The District Attorney’s office filed a motion under seal because it contained part of the grand jury’s testimony, Chun told the courtroom Thursday. Chun directed that the papers be handed over to Liang’s attorneys, who’d filed their own motion to dismiss the charges against their client. Liang faces six separate charges, including manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and assault. 

Liang sat with perfect stillness during the brief conference, which was much shorter than a demonstration held by chanting protestors outside.

"Hands up to the sky! We want justice for Akai!" shouted dozens of people, some wearing shirts emblazoned with Black Lives Matter, others holding signs in Chinese and English voicing support for Gurley’s family. 


"My daughter asks every day, can she see her father, or can she go to daddy," Kimberly Ballinger, the mother of Gurley’s daughter, said after the hearing. "She’s going to be 3 in July and her dad’s not going to be there."

Gurley, a 28-year-old black man, stepped into the darkened stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York on November 20, one floor below rookie Officer Peter Liang and his partner Shaun Landau, who were on "vertical patrols" in the public housing complex. Liang fired a single shot, which hit Gurley in the chest, and Liang and his partner waited four minutes before calling the shooting. Liang had no reason to have his finger on the trigger of his gun, Assistant District Attorney Marc Fliedner said at Liang’s arraignment. the New York Daily News reported. 

Liang was indicted amidst renewed national debate over racism in the criminal justice system and protests over police killings of unarmed black people, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island. 

Since November, Liang’s case has caught the attention of New York’s Chinese-American community, who have tussled over whether, as some feel, Liang is a scapegoat who’s being penalized in a way white cops never were for the deaths of Brown and Garner. Others, as Esther Wang, an organizer affiliated with Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence says, feel that Liang "made a mistake which cost another man his life, and it’s only fair and it’s only justice that he’s held accountable."


Last month, hundreds of protestors organized by the group Coalition of Asian-Americans for Civil Rights, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to Chinatown to voice their support for Liang, and demand that charges be dropped.

"He’s not a scapegoat," Shavon Ford, a friend of Gurley’s family, told Colorlines. "Peter Liang killed someone and that’s the simplest way to look at this case. He pulled that trigger. Given everything that’s happening around the country, you have had officers who haven’t been held accountable. But we’re not tolerating that. We’re here to say, listen, Peter Liang needs to be held accountable regardless of the lack of accountability for other officers."


After Thursday’s hearing wrapped up, a dozen Chinese senior citizens who’d attended filed out of the courtroom and assembled in the hallway of the Brooklyn Supreme Court around Don Lee, chairman of the Asian senior citizen center Homecrest Community Services in Sheepshead Bay. He’d accompanied them to court to act as a translator for the monolingual Cantonese speakers in the group. "The case seems to be very polarizing," Lee told Colorlines, referring to rifts within New York’s Chinese community over Liang’s indictment. 

"We feel bad for Akai Gurley’s family and his daughter," Lee said. "But we are concerned that truth and justice will come out. Is Peter Liang getting a fair trial under the circumstances?" 

Lee, referring to a New York Post report that Liang’s partner Shaun Landau was given immunity for testifying against him, wondered how that could be just. "We know it’s a tragic case, and there are no winners here."

Judge Chun set Liang’s next court date for June 23.