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Statement on The Tragic Death of Mr. Akai Gurley and the Conviction of Police Officer Peter Liang

L. Chen
Pittsford, NY, United States

Feb 22, 2016 — Statement on The Tragic Death of Mr. Akai Gurley and the Conviction of Police Officer Peter Liang by Don B. Lee

After the jury’s decision to convict rookie officer Peter Liang, DA Thompson said there are no winners here and he is right. The death of Mr. Akai Gurley is a tragedy and the biggest victims are Mr. Akai Gurley and his family. We sincerely hope the Gurley Family will find peace. Our prayers are with them and his young daughter, who will grow up without a father.

After advocating and defending for years, I've seen it all too often - mainly people of color who have been unjustly targeted by the police and then pushed through a hugely inefficient and ineffective criminal justice system; which at times, ignored its true purpose –fair and equal justice. At the detriment to and on the backs of the communities of color and the poor, our criminal justice system seems to exist only to churn out convictions to give the public the appearance of order in society. For them, it is often not fair, nor just.

This case has sparked emotionally charged reactions in the African American community as well as the Chinese American community; two communities that have experienced a long history of brutal injustice both in and outside of the criminal justice system.

While this case should be about accountability and the specific actions in the tragedy, it was the lies and half-truths leaked prior to the trial that have caused many in the Chinese American community to see this as yet another case of the system serving up someone from their community just to satisfy the crowd.

Lies were “leaked” to the press that Officer Liang waited to call for help, was texting his union rep on his cell phone after he shot Mr. Gurley, or he did not follow orders from his supervisor while on duty. Though unfair, these lies successfully swayed the public to perceive Officer Peter Liang as someone who was heartless. They painted this rookie cop as a product of everything that is wrong with policing in our country. These misleading news reports and headlines simply added fuel to the fire for the many people looking for justice in the Eric Gardner and Michael Brown deaths and the unjust killing of African Americans around the country. Until I learned the truth that the officer did not text his rep but actually called to report directly to his supervisor what had occurred; I, too, accepted that narrative and demanded severe charges against Officer Liang.

When Officer Liang’s partner, Police Officer Shaun Landau, was given immunity to testify against Liang, it deepened the skepticism of the Chinese American community. Many felt Liang’s fate had been sealed. How could one Officer be charged while the other Officer was given protection for the same tragedy? What did not come out in court was that Police Officer Liang knelt down and cried next to Akai Gurley when he realized he was dead. Many in the community question if racism has once again played against people of color when it comes to our criminal justice system – in this case, against Peter Liang, the Police Officer of Chinese descent.

According to news reports, even DA Ken Thompson stated that he did not believe Officer Liang intended to kill Mr. Gurley, but the events of the tragedy had already been tainted by the lies and public opinion swayed. That some elected officials were calling for an indictment even before the grand jury was assembled is an indication of how political this case had become.

The tragic death of Mr. Gurley, a completely innocent family man, must be fully reviewed to ensure these tragedies do not reoccur. There was no criminal intent, nor any intent on the part of Peter Liang to kill Mr. Gurley. But the policing policy of vertical patrol, lack of training, insufficient police community engagement, and supervisory decision to place two rookie cops in this situation must also be accounted for. Police Officer Liang must be held accountable for his actions in a fair and just manner. Overreaching charges may lead to further distrust from the Asian American community in the criminal justice system. Serving up a sacrificial lamb from a community that has for too long fallen victim to the system does not give comfort that we are heading toward a serious discussion of reforming our policing policy and our criminal justice system. The notion that we've solved the policing problem by convicting a single individual is a harmful one.

We hope the distractions that divide our two communities in this case will end and that we can begin the healing process and come together to demand and fight for true reform at every level of the criminal justice system. Communities should not be pitted against each other because of politics, half-truths, and lies. We must stand united and use our collective energy to fight for and demand a fair and just criminal justice system for everyone at every level, regardless of economic status or race. Justice should be practiced based on the law and truth without regard to politics.

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