peter liang

Chinese Community Rallies Behind NYPD Cop Indicted in Killing of Unarmed Black Man

"We Chinese are all Peter Liang"

Chinese people in the United States and elsewhere are rallying behind an unlikely hero: NYPD officer Peter Liang, who has been indicted in the killing of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man described as a “total innocent” by NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, on November 20 last year. The killing is the latest in strained relations between the black community and police officers in the US following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but this one has galvanized the Chinese community who say Liang is a scapegoat.

Here’s what happened, and why Chinese Americans have launched a White House petition that has already garnered well over 100,000 signatures.

Gurley arrived home at the Pink Houses complex in Brooklyn on November 20. He decided not to wait for the elevator and entered the darkened seventh floor stairwell when he was struck by the bullet that had bounced off a wall. The gun was fired by Liang, who was standing a floor above. Liang had not said anything to Gurley when he fired it, and claims the bullet “flew out” of his gun.

Since the shooting, many incriminating details about the case have emerged, such as the fact that Liang did not radio for help or provide any assistance to Gurley, instead calling his union representative to ask for advice. As well, the ambulance that eventually arrived had to be called by residents of the complex because the officers on hand did not know the building’s address. Liang also apparently ignored phone calls from the ambulance to get the exact location.

While the officers in the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted, Liang looks set to pay a price for the unintended death of an unarmed black man, a father of two young children. It’s that point that has the Chinese community upset. They say Liang is a “scapegoat” unfairly punished because he is a minority. While there has been a “Free Peter Liang” Facebook page for a while, the Chinese community is really making an impact with the White House petition that is asking the President to set Liang free.

This is what the petition says:

Demand Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson to withdraw indictment against Asian minority Officer Peter Liang!

Prosecutors indicts Officer Liang for Political Gain! Asian American Police Officer Becomes Scapegoat!

NYPD Officer, Peter liang told his superiors that his gun had gone off unintentionally, the bullet rattling off a wall and into an unsuspecting man’s chest, killing Akai Gurley.

Nonetheless, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Gurley’s death lead to a manslaughter indictment this week, whereas police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner case were never charged. Criminal charges appeared more likely in the later two cases, but these two non-Asian Police Officers were never charged.

Netizens are also taking to Weibo to promote Liang’s cause and this petition, and are trying to get all Chinese, regardless of nationality, involved in the case. This Weibo user even adapts the “I am Charlie” meme used after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris:

I’ve signed my name!! Please help out this ethnic Chinese police officer. We Chinese are all Peter! Don’t just be a passerby.
A Chinese police officer mistakenly struck a black person with a ricocheting bullet while on duty. Through a jury, a black prosecutor has indicted him on second-degree murder charges. Recently, police officers that have killed people in other parts of the United States have not been charged, and yet only Peter is charged with a serious crime?! There aren’t any problems with the entire legal system; instead, the key point is that we Chinese are not united, and don’t speak out. Subconsciously, it’s very likely the jury and the black prosecutor think it’s okay to oppress Chinese while alleviating the anger of black people at the same time. If ethnic Chinese don’t make their voices strongly heard, the possibility that Peter Liang will get convicted is high. Not long from now in the future, you too could become another “Peter” yourself! Don’t wait, act now!
Brooklyn’s ethnic Chinese need you to make your voices heard to its elected prosecutor!
If this petition receives over 100,000 signatures, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson may likely withdraw all charges to Peter Liang! Please sign the petition!

A successful petition to the White House does not mean your wishes will be granted, but this hasn’t stopped the Chinese community’s support for Liang. This Weibo user says Liang was a filial son and is now prevented from safeguarding America because he accidentally shot a guy to death:

‘Mother, it’s over for me. I apologize to you, I can’t take care of you any more.’ These words aren’t from a drug addict, nor from a robber, nor even from a murderer. They come from police officer Peter Liang, a person that protects and is devoted to the safety of the American public. He quit a stable union job in order to become a police officer because he had a dream to safeguard the public and be a champion for the people.

The arguments made by the Chinese community to set Liang free are largely based upon race, but some amount to this: If white people can kill unarmed black people, Chinese people should be able to, too. If white people can kill unarmed black people, Chinese people should be able to, too.

White people can kill black people in broad daylight without any problem, so by what reason must Chinese be charged (under the same circumstances)? It’s not fair!

The point isn’t that Liang killed a black person, the point is that there have been white police officers (who have killed black people) in cases that haven’t necessarily been accidents, but have not been charged. Liang has mistakenly killed a black person, but has been charged with six different crimes.

Those damned blacks are so detestable, there are some people that should die.

Some people say this is all about civil rights:

If you don’t fight for them, your rights won’t come land on your doorstep. 

I’ve signed up. The road of fighting against racial discrimination in the USA is still a long one to travel. If we don’t fight for Peter Liang now, when it’s our turn one day in the future, who will speak up for us?

The indictment of Peter Liang is a clear case of racism, say these people:

If Peter had a family name of Andrews or Nichols, I’d guess he’d never be charged. Also, what bad luck it is for a police officer to have his gun accidentally go off.

Most of us ethnic Chinese in the greater Washington area have all signed the petition. Even if Liang had a few minutes to radio for an ambulance, the decision to charge him as a murderer without first knowing all the facts is a clear cut example of racism directed towards Chinese.

And then other folks think the responsibility lies elsewhere:

He is responsible, but the one that has the most responsibility is the New York Police Department.

Even though I detest those black people, this case is an unsolvable mystery without any reason to explain why the gun went off. Such is life… ay.

To all people who have signed the petition and are seekers of righteousness: does this therefore mean that it doesn’t matter who mistakenly kills a black person, but that they should not be charged?

The unfair point is that ‘white people won’t get charged after killing black people’, which is to say that getting charged is the normal way. Even if there is inequality between whites and Asians, this should not be based upon the privilege of killing black people. The entire argument is wrong, so how can there be justice?

First of all, let’s not say who is African-American! Who is Asian-American! And who is American! Firing a gun to solve a problem; do you have a problem with impulsive actions? Or are you a coward? Each of us only have one life. When compared to the unfair deaths of these African-Americans, isn’t this the greater tragedy?

With the fate of Peter Liang to be determined by the courts, we await the White House response to the petition.

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor