Before his trial began last week, all we knew of Peter Liang was that he was an inexperienced police officer who fatally shot 28-year-old Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn stairwell in November 2014. We have since learned that Liang and his partner, while on a patrol against their commander’s wishes, failed to administer first aid or call for emergency health services well after the bullet from the allegedly accidental discharge of his weapon ricocheted into Gurley. From the gung-ho expedition up the shadowy stairwells of the infamous Pink Houses to the lack of help that could have saved Gurley’s life, the Liang case screams for serious reform of NYPD training protocol.
Issues regarding police brutality have long plagued New York law enforcement, with multiple recent cases making national news. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner with a banned chokehold in 2014, was cleared of all charges despite a viral video capturing the ordeal. Liang is one of the few police officers recently indicted for killing an unarmed person. Unlike in the case of Pantaleo — whose courtroom was flooded with fellow cops — few of the members of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association were present at Liang’s trial. The obvious difference between Pantaleo and Liang is that Pantaleo is white and Liang is Chinese-American. And, discouragingly, some groups have taken this difference and run with it.
For instance, a mostly Chinese-American crowd turned out for a pro-police rally led by Joseph Concannon, a white former NYPD captain. A protester justified his participation by saying that white officers “haven’t faced this when they’ve killed people.” This belief is rooted in the idea that racial dialogue in the United States is always beholden to an us-versus-them narrative. Supporting broken and corrupt institutions does not benefit any minority group. But the rhetoric of police officers is meticulously engineered to pit communities against each other, all while police brutality continues unchallenged.
The problem at hand in the Akai Gurley case pertains to more than just one racial group. It extends deep into the way that NYPD officers are trained and disciplined — white, black or Asian. Anyone could have been dead at the bottom of that dark stairwell. The Akai Gurley case is not about race as much as it is about defending communities of all stripes from officers incapable of properly serving the people — whether it be out of nervousness, aggression or bigotry. The Asian-American community has nothing to gain by rallying to Liang’s defense. They have everything to gain from holding all officers more accountable, including white officers, no matter what pro-police political manipulators may say. Every community has a stake in creating a more accountable police force. Only when they unite together can they exercise that stake.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 1 print edition.
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