Thousands of Asian Americans across the country took to the streets this weekend to protest Chinese-American ex-NYPD officer Peter Liang‘s conviction for killing Akai Gurley. The prevailing sentiment was that Liang was a scapegoat for a corupt police force. A New York Post op-ed echoed the view and took it a step further, comparing Liang’s conviction to the racist murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. It’s a comparison that Chin’s neice, Annie Tan, promptly rejected in an essay published on Medium yesterday (February 22).
Two White men, both laid-off auto workers, fatally bludgeoned Tan’s uncle in a Detroit suburb. They were convinced that the Chinese-American man was Japanese and therefore somehow responsible for their employment status. His killers took a plea bargain in exchange for lenient sentences, and the Chin family—and many others—felt they were denied justice. Chin’s murder and the case’s outcome galvanized Asian-American advocacy in the United States.
Tan’s piece examines protestors’ motivation ("Do these protesters want Officer Liang exonerated? To get a more lenient sentence? Or is the support a distorted way of saying, ‘Why do we treat Chinese cops like this and not White cops?’"). It also criticizes the New York Post piece’s conflation of Liang with Chin and Pvt. Danny Chen, a soldier who committed suicide following ongoing racist harassment during his deployment. Her whole essay is worth reading in full, but here are a few key passages:
That night, Officer Liang pulled his gun from his holster. Unlike what Ng stated, the gun didn’t just go off—Officer Liang pulled the trigger. Officer Liang didn’t provide medical attention or call for an ambulance—instead, he bickered with his partner over who would call this in. Officer Liang may have not intentionally killed Akai, but he did, with his reckless actions.
The signs "One tragedy, two victims" held up by protesters do not apply here. Officer Liang may have been shortchanged by a police institution that did not train him properly and then abandoned him, but he is not a victim. His actions directly and unjustifiably caused the death of another.
I do believe Officer Liang received different treatment than other non-Asian police officers who have committed similar, or worse, acts of violence. But instead of arguing Officer Liang deserved an acquittal or a lenient sentence, I believe police officers, regardless of race, who kill anyone under similar circumstances, should be convicted of unlawful homicide and go to prison too, alongside Officer Liang. Officer Liang is awaiting sentencing, but, as with any defendant convicted of manslaughter by a firearm, Officer Liang should serve prison time.
Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, second-degree reckless endangerment, criminally negligent homicide and official misconduct for shooting and killing Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man. Liang fired a shot down a dark stairwell, which ricocheted and hit Gurley. Defense attorneys argued that Liang accidentally discharged the weapon, while prosecution and eyewitness testimony (including from his partner, Shaun Landau, who was given immunity for testifying) argued that Liang acted recklessly and did not perform emergency procedures after striking Gurley. Liang and Landau were fired from the force following Liang’s February 11 conviction.