Liang Verdict Angers and Dismays Many Asian Americans

The conviction of an Asian American officer for killing a man in a dark stairwell stirred emotions in the community

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The trial of a rookie ex-police officer, Peter Liang, ended Thursday with a guilty verdict convicting Liang of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct. Liang fired the bullet that bounced off a wall in a dark stairwell that killed Akai Gurley, then 28, in November, 2014.

The case has stirred emotions in the Asian American community, with many arguing last year that the officer was being made a scapegoat in reaction to a backlash against police and prosecutors for not indicting the police officers involved in the Eric Garner case in Staten Island. The verdict against Liang predictably stirred emotions in the city and among Asian Americans.

“I’m so surprised at this verdict and my confidence for the judiciary hit the bottom, I feel a great sense of insecurity as an Asian American,”said Shuang Li, 36, a writer from Boston, who helps organize a Facebook page called Free Officer Peter Liang and a defense legal fund for the Chinese American police officer. Liang faces up to 15 years in prison.

On Wechat, a popular Chinese instant messaging App, multiple chat groups spread word of the verdict among Asian Americans, organizing protests against the verdict and raising donations for Liang and his family.

The tragedy happened in 2014 during a late-night patrol of a public housing building in East New York, an area known for its high crime rates. In court, Liang argued he fired his gun because of a noise and the ricocheting bullet hit and killed Gurley. However, the trial took a surprising turn when an assistant district attorney, Joe Alexis, rebutted Liang’s defense in the closing argument and stated, “Liang pointed his gun and shot Akai Gurley.”

On Friday, Gurley’s family gathered to make a list of demands outside NYPD’s headquarters, including one that asked for the NYPD to fire Shaun Landau, Liang’s former partner. In a statement, the family said: “We will continue to struggle and ensure that Peter Liang and Shaun Landau are held accountable.” On Friday afternoon, the NYPD fired Landau.

On Saturday, the verdict resonated with many Asian Americans, who expressed  their objection and belief that the trial and the verdict were unjust.

“Whether he is Asian American or not, I don’t feel the result is fair to him,” said Shundi Shi, 64, a researcher who lives in Queens,  over the telephone, expressing sympathy for the Gurley family. “It was an accident [that] happened on his duty. This cannot end with a tragedy for another family, I feel so upset.”

Lily Fu, 52, who is a computer science engineer from Maryland, argued that the Asian American police officer was singled out to soothe the tension and anger between white police officers and black communities after the Eric Garner case in 2014, when no officer was charged.

Fu also believes that the NYPD holds some responsibility in the Liang case because they put a rookie police officer on duty in a dangerous area. “If a doctor has not got his license, and the hospital puts him in an operation and the patient dies, I don’t think the doctor is responsible, instead, the hospital should be,” she explained.

Meanwhile, many Asian American organizations across the country are mobilizing to help Liang’s supporters and family. “We are really sad and disappointed at the jury’s decision. Everybody is talking about it on Wechat, whether they are from the East Coast or West” said Zig Jiang, 42, the vice president of the Chinese American Equalization Association in California. She added that her organization is going to do whatever it takes to turn the verdict around, including raising donations for Liang.

She questions the legitimacy of the verdict because she thinks two days are not enough for jurors to come up with a fair deliberation. “Black live matters, but what about Asian lives?” she sighed in a telephone interview.

Lynn Tang, 45, an economics professor at the College of New Jersey, who has been living in the United States for 23 years, argued that Asian Americans, like Liang and Wenjian Liu, another Chinese American officer who was fatally shot inside his patrol car in 2014, have served the public well. But unfortunately, in this case, she said she felt that the NYPD threw Liang under the bus by not supporting him.

“The biggest mistake Mr. Liang [made] was that he didn’t immediately dial 911 and call the ambulance after he shot Gurley,” said Tang, adding that “his partner Landau had the same responsibility for not reporting the accident, but Landau was released.” She suggests double standards in the different punishments.

Tang and many Chinese American parents interviewed noted that the verdict might discourage some Asian American children from becoming police officers in the future.

Liang’s lawyers have requested a dismissal of the charges—and expect to file an appeal.

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