On the Peter Liang Case

Jay Kang has a thought-provoking piece on the Asian-American reaction to the case of Peter Liang, the NYPD cop who was convicted of manslaughter for the killing of Akai Gurley:

“Even if you believe, as I do, that Liang should be in jail, the inevitable follow-up question — why only Liang? — suggests that the unjust protections routinely afforded to white officers should be extended either to everyone or to nobody at all. To ignore this suggestion is intellectually dishonest.

“But to engage with it is to ignore the overwhelming context of the case: yet another unarmed black man killed by yet another police officer. The cleanest response — one I’ve seen throughout social media, where clean, vaguely lobotomized responses often reign supreme — is to simply say that some justice is better than none. But how can any sincere confrontation of racial inequity in policing and the criminal-justice system ignore the inconvenient singularity of Liang’s conviction?”

Many Asian-Americans feel that Liang was the scapegoat to appease the growing discontent against police killings of unarmed black males around the country. So many white officers have not even been indicted for the killings (Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner’s case, Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s [Ferguson] case), so why is it that the only guy that’s been convicted is an Asian-American? Indeed, I feel strongly that #blacklivesmatter, but the Liang case makes it difficult for me to explain to elders in my community that racial justice among other minority groups is something Asians have to fight for, too.

I remember a few years ago, I overheard an Asian-American student at Princeton remark, “well, Asians are basically white in America, right?” The Liang case forces us to reassess the unique situation our “racial” group is in, and why that behooves us to advocate for the rights of all other minority groups, rather than being complacent with an alleged position as a privleged group. I disagree with Kang’s opinion that to take up Liang’s cause is an inherently unjust cause, however. I think there are valid points, too, made by those who defend him. The issue of militarized policing in the United States is far larger than any single police officer – regardless of race – and can only be ameliorated by a nationwide revamping of training, education, and laws.