Cop's guilty verdict a blow to Asian Americans

Liang crumpling in his seat in the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn after the verdict was delivered on Thursday. He was convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct for fatally shooting an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley.
Liang crumpling in his seat in the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn after the verdict was delivered on Thursday. He was convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct for fatally shooting an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • As the jury read the verdict - guilty - in the manslaughter trial of a New York City police officer whose gunshot into the stairwell of a public-housing building killed an unarmed black man, the officer, Peter Liang, crumpled in his seat in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, his face falling into his hands.

In the courtroom gallery on Thursday night, his deflated posture was mirrored not just by his family, but also by some of the Chinese-language newspaper reporters present, and by the supporters, many of Asian descent, who had rallied around him.

Their courtroom sentiment reflected the feelings that have swelled throughout the city's Asian enclaves since Liang's indictment last year and that have peaked following his conviction.

Many have rallied around the 28-year-old officer, who is Chinese-American, describing him as a scapegoat who was targeted at a time when there is a roiling national debate about the policing of black neighbourhoods. And it has pulled at a thread long woven through the city's Asian population, which sees what happened as yet another example of the mistreatment of a marginalised community, ill-equipped to fight back.

"In the wake of unfortunately so many deaths of unarmed black men, some cops gotta hang," said Mr John Liu, the former New York City comptroller who ran for mayor in 2013 and who has been vocal on social media about his belief that Liang was unfairly singled out. "The sentiment in the Asian community is: It's easier to hang an Asian, because Asians, they don't speak up."

  • Police patrol that turned into tragedy

  • York City police officer Peter Liang and his partner Shaun Landau were conducting a so-called vertical patrol in a stairwell at the Louis H. Pink Houses, a public housing complex in the East New York section, when a shot from Liang's gun ricocheted off a wall and struck an unarmed man in the chest, piercing his heart.

    Neither of the officers tried to help the man, 28-year-old Akai Gurley, and they both told a state Supreme Court jury in Brooklyn that they had not felt qualified to perform CPR.

    The jurors found Liang guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct on Thursday, and he was immediately dismissed by the Police Department.

    The department also fired Mr Landau, who testified for the prosecution under immunity, on Friday, but did not explain why.

    NEW YORK TIMES

Throughout the trial, the family of the victim, Mr Akai Gurley, had framed the shooting as another example of unjustified police violence against black men.

Liang, who was fired from the Police Department immediately after the verdict, faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced by Justice Danny K. Chun of State Supreme Court on April 14. Mr Chun is Korean-American.

Liang's defence team on Friday played down the suggestion that his ethnicity played a role in the case. "People of all races are saying that if Peter Liang were not Chinese or were not a person of colour, maybe he wouldn't have been convicted," said Mr Robert Brown, one of Liang's lawyers. "I don't know. I don't think that our jury deliberately said, 'Let's convict this person because he's a person of colour.' "

Support for Liang among Asians was far from unanimous. Ms Cathy Dang, executive director of a group once known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence and now simply calls itself CAAAV, said CAAAV came under fierce criticism from many Asians for its support of the Gurley family.

"I understand that they feel like he (Liang) is a scapegoat, but at the end of the day, a life was stolen from a family, and Officer Liang is part of a system that does it to many other people, and we can't keep giving police officers impunity," said Ms Dang.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline 'Cop's guilty verdict a blow to Asian Americans'. Print Edition | Subscribe