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Call for leniency in Peter Liang's sentencing

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On February 11, Rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter (a felony and up to 15 years in prison) for killing Akai Gurley, who was hit by a ricocheting bullet accidentally discharged from Liang’s gun in the dark stairwell during a vertical patrol at Louis H. Pink Houses, known as one of the most dangerous NYC housing projects.  Liang was also found guilty of official misconduct for failing to help Mr. Gurley as he lay on a fifth-floor landing. 

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the conviction would have “a chilling effect on police officers across the city because it criminalizes a tragic accident.”  As a Chinese American like Peter Liang, I find the prosecution and the conviction of Liang are even more unsettling. 

Like other racial minorities, Chinese Americans have been discriminated against and victimized throughout American history, even as of today. A hundred and fifty years ago, when America needed cheap, productive and hard-working labor to build transcontinental railroad, a lot of Chinese were brought in. The railroad “was built with blood, sweat, politics and thievery” -Howard Zinn.  It was estimated that over 1200 Chinese workers died while building the railroad.  When the railroad was finished and labor was in surplus, white workers didn’t like hard-working Chinese to compete with them for jobs, and the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted.  “When Vincent Chin was murdered in 1982 by 2 white men because of his skin color, the perpetrators were sentenced to pay 3000 dollars and no jail time. The judge said, "these were not the kind of men you send to jail... You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal." It looks like they did it again with Liang -- making the punishment fit the "criminal" instead of the crime. A Chinaman's chance was what Liang had. On a separate but related issue, when the white society decided to address past grievances of slavery and raise college admission rates for minorities at elite colleges through affirmative action programs, it is paid by lost opportunities of Chinese Americans. Statistically, Chinese American candidates' scores, grades and extracurricular accomplishments must be much higher than white applicants for acceptance. Young Chinese Americans, be it a policeman, an engineer (Vincent Chin) or a college applicant, are not equally protected by the legal system, which has failed us again and again. The "model minority" must no longer remain silent. Speak up now or continue to be invisible and mistreated!”  This New York Times reader’s comment resonated with me deeply.  When politicians need a scapegoat for the broken judicial system and racial injustice, Asian Americans are the first ones to be sacrificed, because we are the silent "model minority" with no political power whatsoever.  We cannot afford to be like this anymore, we must speak up and stand up.

As a racial minority, I feel the suffering, the pain and the anger of African Americans. They are victimized most by the police brutality.  Akai Gurley, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, the list goes on and on, none of them deserved to die.  Police officers should be and must be held accountable for their misconduct.

As an ordinary citizen, I also understand the danger and difficult nature of a police officer’s job.  Those men in blue risk their lives every day to protect us.  Many NYCHA’s housing projects are like war zones.  Just a week before Liang’s conviction, two NYPD officers were shot in the stairwell of a housing complex while conducting a similar routine vertical patrol like Liang did.  In Dec. 2014, Chinese American NYPD Officer Wenjian Liu, together with his partner Rafael Ramos, was ambushed and killed in execution style on a street not far from Louis H. Pink Houses where officer Liang accidentally shot Mr. Gurley.  

Police officers need guns to do their jobs and to protect themselves. When they have that kind of lethal weapon in their hands, tragic accidents are bound to happen, no matter how well-trained or experienced.  Liang and his partner were rookie officers who were sent to do the most dangerous job in the most dangerous neighborhood. In all the professions, from sports to law, medicine, engineering, and etc., we don’t let rookies to do the most difficult or dangerous work. But somehow the NYPD did.  I’m glad that they changed this practice since then, but I’m saddened that it took Mr. Gurley’s life for the change to happen.

Police officers are humans like us. They have all the weakness and vulnerabilities that we have. I don’t expect them to be supermen, nor do I think they are sociopaths with no heart. When they accidentally kill or severely injure someone, especially when it is the first time and as a rookie, it is extremely hard for them not to be shaken or frozen.  This was exactly what happened to Liang as his boss had testified to the court.  It is understandable that he couldn’t function as his normal self to do his job. Neither he nor his partner tried to help fatally injured Mr. Gurley.  This only tells me that they are not extraordinarily capable rather than callously indifferent rookie policeman.   It should not be made a crime. 

When ordinary citizens accidentally kill somebody, we usually are not charged with crimes. Take auto accidents, for example. We give police officers lethal weapons, put them in dangerous situations and ask them to risk their lives to protect us.  But when a tragic accident happens, we treat the officer harsher than us and make him a criminal? Who will want to join the police force then?

I feel deep sorrow for the loss of Akai Gurley’s life.  At the same time, I don’t think it is right to make Peter Liang a criminal for this tragic accident. Revenge is not justice; scapegoating is not justice.  Justice for victims of police brutality cannot be achieved by doing injustice to Peter Liang.  Martin Luther King once said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Let’s stop the injustice towards Peter Liang.

Peter Liang’s sentencing is set for April 14. Please join me in asking Judge Danny Chun to use his discretion to make Liang not to serve any prison time. Please sign my petition and share it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by using #Justice4Liang as a way to help.

Thank you. 

(You may also go to this facebook page to find more information and show your support for Liang )



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