Akai Gurley died by the hand of rookie cop Peter Liang, in the stairwell of his own home, for no reason. His death is a grave injustice in a long string of police shootings around the nation. Few, if any, of the police officers who have killed young Black men and women have been prosecuted, much less sentenced for their crimes.
Did Peter Liang commit a crime? The prosecutor, Ken Thompson, must have thought so, since he charged him with a crime. The judge and jury must have thought so since he was found guilty in a trial that was deemed legal and proper. Logically, justice needs to be carried out to its legal and logical conclusion: guilty verdict must be followed by sentencing and a jail sentence.
District Attorney Ken Thompson, an African American man, in a letter to Judge Danny K. Chun, says that a prison term for former Officer Liu isn’t warranted because he is not a danger and has no prior criminal history. But Liu’s crime was one of police misconduct: manslaughter while carrying out his duties as a police officer. Technically, Liu was never supposed to pose a danger to society; he was one of its protectors.
Which brings me to the most disturbing part of this. In other officer-involved crimes against African American citizens, shootings, beatings, chokings – all of which were obviously carried out in malice, by mostly white police officers – there have been scant few prosecutions. In this case, a rookie cop, member of a different minority group than his victim, in a case that is obvious for failings that have to do more with training and Liang’s fitness to work independently and in potentially dangerous situations. Liang , in the end, was prosecuted fairly. While he may not have killed Akai Gurley out of malice, he did kill him out of very poor judgment and insufficient training. Not only was Gurley put in danger, but so was Liang’s partner. Surely, the police academy still drums into all of its trainees that one always thinks of one’s partner’s safety.
This case comes with multiple layers of tragedy. First, Akai Gurley, a 28 year old young man, new dad and son, lost his life in a senseless incident. Peter Liang, obviously not sufficiently trained and ready to perform the duties of an NYPD officer, not only commits a crime, but gets to pay for it, while those who decided on his fitness for duty get to carry on, with no consequences for their poor work and decision-making processes. Worst of all, there is now a precedent whereby a minority cop gets sacrificed by being tried, and is then saved from serving time. I write worst of all because we all know that Akai Gurley isn’t the last Black young man to die at the hands of the NYPD but we now know that if you’re a minority cop and you kill – accidentally or not – you will be sacrificed to at least some degree. If you’re white, you will probably get away with it.
This is what adding insult to injury looks like in the real world. It is cruel in many ways, beginning with the twisted racial games we play in a nation that is unable to come to terms and then seek atonement for its original sin.
If negligence is criminal, then Liang is guilty. While it is possible, obvious even, that his training was insufficient, there is no training that grants one common sense and much greater care, given particular situations. Any extenuating circumstances must come in the degree to which Liang is punished – not whether he is punished at all.
That said, Liang was failed in that he was sent into a situation he wasn’t equipped to handle. For that, his sentence should be on the lighter side of sentencing guidelines. For that, those who were in charge of training Liang should have their decision-making examined and, should it be found lacking, those officials should be reassigned and training methods reexamined. Something went wrong somewhere along the way.
This nation badly needs reform of its police procedures, from training to every last guideline pertaining to the conduct of officers while on the job. When it comes to investigating and prosecuting officers who kill citizens, Bernie Sanders is right. The US Department of Justice should investigate and prosecute all police-involved shootings in America, at least until such time as the vast majority of police forces are reformed, retrained and solutions found to remove the conflicts of interests between police forces and prosecutors.
Yes, that means greatly beefing up the staff of attorneys and investigators at DOJ. If Black Lives Matter, then the expense and extra effort can only be justified and worth it. What must absolutely change is that when there is a death, there must be consequences for those who pull the trigger in a manner that is appropriate to the case, circumstance and, most of all, no matter who does the shooting.
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Akai Gurley the “Thug,” Peter Liang the “Rookie Cop” and the Model Minority Myth
A popular image of Asians, particularly East Asians, in the US is the model minority myth, which is very successfully used as a tool to help maintain white supremacy in the US. The model minority myth grew in popularity in the 1950s and 60s in a strategic manner which countered growing public unrest regarding “racial disparities” in the US. The model minority myth flattens vastly different Asian ethnicities, painting Asians as a monolithic group of “good” non-whites able to rise above unfair and strenuous conditions to be held up as an exemplary group of minorities in the US. The basic idea is that if Asians can succeed in spite of the hardships stacked against them, why can’t other non-whites? Despite being completely false and doing more harm for Asian communities than good, these so-called “positive stereotypes” promoted through the model minority myth imply that other racialized groups who have “not done as well for themselves” – especially Black people, but also Indigenous and Latinx peoples – are strictly to blame for their own hardships and “disenfranchised” position in US society. This framework strategically obscures structural disparities created through anti-Black white supremacist violence, such as the lasting impacts and legacy of African chattel slavery.
The model minority myth crafts a stifling, inaccurate, and violently homogenizing representation of “Asian-Americans.” This carefully constructed identity is employed by white supremacy as a wedge tool to maintain the existing US social orders that relegate Black people to “the bottom.” Meanwhile, we are strategically taught to believe that Indigenous peoples are “extinct” and therefore their lands are considered “empty” and available for our and others’ settlement. Newly arriving Asians, as well as those of us born here in the United States, are active participants in the settler colonial nation state. Our presence here on these lands – however complicated by our own histories of European colonialism and dispossession, and the violence we experience due to white supremacy and other oppressive power structures – works to ensure the continued occupation of these lands, the ongoing invisibilization and genocide of Indigenous peoples, and the unrelenting attacks on their lifeways.
Read the rest of this op-ed on TruthOut.org