Chinese American NYPD officer Peter Liang was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for the death of Akai Gurley, a Black man, during a shooting incident in a Brooklyn housing-project in November 2014. The 28-year-old Liang and his trial have been a polarizing topic within Asian American communities. On one side is a community that stands with Liang and argues that he has become an Asian scapegoat for White police brutality, inferring to cases such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner in which White officers had their own charges dropped. On the other side, a community of Asian Americans stand by the victim Gurley and his family, believing that all police brutality and negligence must be punishable regardless of race, and Liang is no exception.
Often, Asian Americans feel that they operate in a world colored purely in Black and White, but with the case of Liang, we are directly confronted with understanding our own place in the system. And the fact of the matter is that the system is one that methodically devalues black and brown bodies. The argument of scapegoating does not justify the actions of Liang. Instead, it is an example of how Asian Americans are not exempt from such racial prejudices. Asian Americans, and particularly, East Asian Americans, have historically participated in and benefitted from systemic anti-Blackness. This is partly how the model minority myth is fueled. And within the grander racial scheme, these racist foundations only further drive a wedge between minorities, pitting us against each other in a zero-sum game. As CAAAV, an Asian American activist group, states: “Asian and Asian American communities who are often positioned as proof that racial uplift is possible despite this foundation, have more to gain from seeking justice than maintaining the status quo.”
Through all of these debates and qualifiers, what remains clear are the facts for this case: Liang, a licensed and trained cop, fired his gun out of recklessness; his bullet hit Akai Gurley. Liang didn’t report the firing, and when he found the victim, he did not attempt to resuscitate. Liang was found guilty, and this verdict is an example of justice. But, seeing thousands of misguided individuals rally for Liang’s “innocence”, we still have a long way to go.