By Jennie L. Ilustre
In a show of unity, coalitions of Asian American groups held nationwide rallies and issued supportive letters and public statements, urging a fair and just decision for former New York police officer Peter Liang, while emphasizing that all cops must be held accountable for their actions.
Liang was convicted on Feb. 11 on charges of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct. A jury found Liang guilty of killing an innocent man, Akai Gurley, when he fired a shot in a dark stairwell and the bullet ricocheted towards Gurley’s heart. Liang was patrolling a public housing building on November 20, 2014.
Liang, 28, is scheduled for sentencing on April 14. He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison for the manslaughter charge, according to a New York Law Journalnews report, adding his lawyer, Rae Downes Koshetz, would ask Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun for the minimum: no jail time.
Attorney Koshets will argue that there was insufficient evidence against Liang, according to the Journal, and will note his lack of a criminal record and the lack of aggravating circumstances.
Attorney Koshetz and her co-counsel would file a motion by March 9 to overturn the verdict either by Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, who presided over the trial, or on appeal, according to the Journal. The prosecution’s reply is due by March 30.
On Feb. 22, the Committee of 100 wrote Judge Danny Chun of the Supreme Court of New York in Kings County, who presided over the trial, urging him “to render a fair and just decision commensurate with the applicable laws and circumstances of Mr. Liang’s case.” The Committee of 100, based in New York City, is an international non-partisan leadership organization composed of prominent Chinese Americans in business, government, academia and the arts.
The Committee of 100 Acting Chairman Herman Li wrote that the organization “empathizes with the African American community over the loss of black lives without justification at the hands of law enforcement. We extend our sympathies to the family and friends of Akai Gurley and urge collective action to address long standing systemic issues of disparities in the criminal justice system.
“At the same time the Committee also supports appropriate and fair prosecution of these matters. A judicial system that indicts people selectively is troubling and contrary to our country’s treasured principle of equal treatment under the law. The Committee fully understands the anger and frustration of many in the Chinese American community who believe that former officer Liang was singled out as a scapegoat.”
“We understand how the community feels, and are heartened to see people coming together with a strong voice,” Committee of 100 Acting Chairman Li said. “We strongly urge supporters to channel their frustrations into constructive actions to help former Officer Liang and his family move forward within the legal process.”
The Committee’s website (www.committee100.org), notes that for over 25 years, it has been promoting a dual mission of fostering “the full participation of Chinese Americans in all fields of American life, and encouraging constructive relations between the peoples of the US and Greater China.”
In an email interview, top leader Gregory A. Cendana stressed that the community understands the disproportionate impact state violence has on the lives of African Americans. He echoed the Committee of 100’s declaration that the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities should not be used as “a wedge for racial justice.”
Cendana is the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific American Associations (NCAPA).
Remarked Cendana: “APALA continues to demand Justice for Akai Gurley and stands with his family, who still have to deal with the reality of losing a loved one too soon at the hands of police. No matter the identity of an officer, we believe we must hold all cops accountable for their actions, especially when innocent lives are lost. This is true even in the case of Officer Peter Liang, an Asian American, who was found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct by a grand jury. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country, led by those in New York, were the ones who called for Officer Liang to be held accountable and continue to support Akai’s family.”
“Members of our community are not immune from police brutality,” Cendana pointed out. “Examples include Cao Bich Tran, who was shot and killed by a San Jose police officer, Fong Lee, who was killed by a police officer in North Minneapolis and Sureshbhai Patel, who was left nearly paralyzed after being brutally beaten by an Alabama police officer. In these cases, AAPIs demanded the officers involved be held accountable–no matter their race or other identities.”
OCA’s Call for Reform
On Feb. 23, OCA Chief Executive Officer S Ken Lee acknowledged the concerns of OCA members and its National Board members on the Liang case “and its implications for both our community and the larger society.” He stressed that the community must continue to have an active voice in discussions our society must have surrounding criminal justice reform “so that everybody knows that our voices can never be silenced.”
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates issued a statement on Feb. 23 by OCA National President Leslie Moe-Kaiser urging Increased Oversight of Police Misconduct, as follows: “We extend our deepest sympathies to Akai Gurley’s family. We support the value of black lives unequivocally. However, we must distinguish the instances of harm and death perpetrated against communities of color by law enforcement officers and the pervasive, institutionalized bias which protects such officers from the unintentional actions of Officer Liang. We hope that there is an understanding that the physical environment Officer Liang was thrust into, the insufficient training provided by the NYPD, and the absence of supervision by senior officers also contributed to Mr. Gurley’s death.”
“Though we sympathize with Officer Liang’s family, he should still be held accountable. We strongly encourage the Court to carefully consider Officer Liang’s culpability at the time the weapon was discharged in determining his sentence,” continued Moe-Kaiser. “At its core, this case is about seeking justice in an unjust system, one that has continually marginalized black lives and pitted communities of color against each other.
“We cannot allow this case to become a racial wedge issue hindering communities of color from collectively bringing about meaningful criminal justice reform. All officers must be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their race.
“In order to accomplish this, OCA calls upon all states to work with the Department of Justice to create independent offices that investigate instances of police misconduct, excessive use of force, and shootings. The United States is a nation established on the rule of law, and it is time we ensure that those laws apply equally and equitably to everyone.”
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national organization of community advocates, aims to improve the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans (APAs).
The Chinese American Community in the Greater Sacramento Area in California, which also held a rally on Feb. 20, appealed for leniency in the sentencing of former Police Officer Liang. In a press release, it said it was “profoundly saddened by ‘what amounted to an accident in the dark,’” quoting a New York newspaper, adding, it “wishes to convey our deepest condolences to Mr. Gurley’s family.”
Calling what transpired a tragedy, the organization noted that “more than the loss of one life is involved as many lives are forever altered.”
The organization added: “We pray for leniency in the sentencing of Officer Liang. Indeed many in the Chinese American community all over our country ask why the long overdue response to accountability for police shootings should be meted out to a Chinese rookie cop, poorly trained and unequipped to deal with the situation…The Chinese American Community in the Greater Sacramento Area simply asks the principle of accountability be universally applied to result in equal justice for all.”