By Jason Fong
Peter Liang, a rookie NYPD officer, fired the bullet that killed unarmed Akai Gurley in the Louis Pink Houses in Brooklyn on November 20, 2014. No one disputes this. Not Peter Liang. Not his partner.
Shockingly, there are some Chinese and Chinese Americans who feel that Liang should not be punished. They think that he should not be indicted – not because Liang did not kill Gurley, but because white cops in similar situations have not been indicted. In the past few weeks, my dad has received several emails from Hong Kong businessmen asking him to support Peter Liang because he has allegedly been “scapegoated.” These people feel that since white cops have been able to break the law and escape punishment, Liang should also be able to escape indictment as well. They point to the Staten Island grand jury which declined to file charges against the officer who killed Eric Garner and the Missouri grand jury which declined to file charges against the officer who killed Michael Brown as evidence that Liang’s indictment was politically motivated.
This is an astonishing line of reasoning. Liang’s supporters are arguing that since white officers in completely unrelated incidents have not been indicted, Liang should not be either. In other words, since some white officers have been able to escape accountability, so should Liang.
As Jenn Fang of Reappropriate has noted, Liang’s supporters are essentially arguing that “Asian Americans want to have the same privilege to shoot unarmed Black men without consequence as is currently afforded to White police officers.”
This line of thinking by Liang’s supporters brings to mind an incident in the Chinese province of Hubei a few years ago. Parents of students taking the grueling college entrance examination called the gaokao rioted because they were upset that test proctors confiscated students’ phones and other devices that were being used to cheat. Some of the rioting parents and students punched test proctors and about 2,000 rioters damaged buildings and other property while chanting, “[w]e want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.” They are arguing that since others are breaking the rule, they should be able to do so as well, and that there is some deep inequity if they are not allowed to game the system as others have.
As Liang’s supporters might say, fairness dictates that we should be able to get away with murder since others have gotten away with murder.
We all know that not all lawbreakers or rulebreakers get caught and punished. Some get away with cheating the system. But the fact that some get away with rule breaking doesn’t invalidate punishing those who are caught. Yes – it might be frustrating to see white cops like Darrell Wilson break rules and get away with it and then see Liang indicted. But the focus here should not be in Missouri or even in Staten Island. The focus here should be on the incident that happened in that hallway in the Brooklyn projects on November 20, 2014 and Liang’s actions and omissions surrounding that incident.
I am sympathetic to the Liang family. My father grew up in the same Bensonhurst neighborhood (Yo, Bay Parkway!) in a working-class household where the adults did not speak English, and Toishanese roots ran deep and wide. Like Liang’s parents, my grandparents worked in restaurants and garment factories. My dad and his sisters were products of the New York City public school system and first generation college students who stayed close to home.
But my personal connection doesn’t mean I think Chinese people should not be punished for killing another human being. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the rules shouldn’t apply to everyone – especially when being the exception to those rules helps to perpetuate a system in which some who kill can walk away as if the death of another counts for nothing at all.
To those who support Liang, I’d like to say that you can call me a traitor, a banana and whatever else you’d like on WeChat, but the fact of the matter is, when you defend bad cops, incompetent police work, and a broken system that protects police misconduct, you don’t help our community. We deserve police who are competent, well-trained, and accountable. My 80-year-old yun yun still lives in Bensonhurst, and I hope that she can rely on police officers who are trained to act with compassion and efficiency and are trained to save not take lives. This is something that I would think all sides – even the police – can agree upon.
I think that it matters that yet another young Black life was shot down by police. If you agree, please sign this letter and submit a photo to this Tumblr campaign to show the Gurley family that his death will not be ignored. #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeforAkaiGurley