The conviction of an Asian American rookie cop who accidentally discharged his weapon, killing an innocent man in the staircase of a Brooklyn housing project in November, has evoked strong reactions from local Asian American leaders and community members.
Ex-officer Peter Liang, who is from Bensonhurst, has been found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct for fatally shooting an unarmed Akai Gurley and faces up to 15 years in prison, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced yesterday.
Today, dozens packed into Sunset Park’s Golden Imperial Palace (618 62nd Street) for a press conference hosted by the Coalition of Asian Americans for Civil Rights (CAACR ) to address concerns about the conviction and to support Liang’s family.
Most of the 12-person panel spoke to the crowd in Mandarin, including the officer’s tearful mother Fanny Liang.
“Peter always wanted to be a police officer since he was 5 years old,” she said, according to a translator. “Now I was robbed. I always discouraged him, but he was persistent and after working at the TSA, he became an officer. His conviction is a personal tragedy. There must be justice for him.”
Many observed that the verdict comes amid a national conversation about policing following a series of incidents involving police officers killing unarmed black men.
“No justice, only politics,” said Jerry Low, a member of CAACR who spoke at the event. “Peter Liang was a scapegoat. Peter is taking the fall for Eric Garner and Mike Brown killings to satisfy anger in the black community.”
A box collecting money for Liang’s legal appeal was passed around.
“Everyone should be looking for justice to be done,” the assemblyman said in press release. “But I remain disturbed that the prosecuting attorney made a closing argument to the jury implying that this shooting was deliberate and that Police Officer Liang pointed his gun at the victim — when none of the facts raised in the trial supported such an argument.”
Here is Colton blasting the prosecuting attorney again at today’s press conference.
Local Asian American community leaders we spoke to echoed the claims that Liang is being scapegoated for the justice system’s failure to prosecute the police officers responsibly for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
Dr. Steven Chung, president of Brooklyn’s United Chinese Association summed up the outrage many feel.
“This is unfair,” he said. “This was absolutely an accident. What the conviction is, is a indication of using him as a scapegoat to calm down the political tension, because you cannot use another injustice case to remove injustice, the asian-american lack of political power makes him an easy scapegoat. All of our communities and all of our seniors are enraged. If there is something wrong in our justice system, this should apply to everybody and not just to this particular case.”
Warren Chan, president of the social service organization Asian Community United Society (ACUS) also did not mince words.
“There was no true justice involved in this trial and everything was all politics,” said Chan. “The true intent of this trial is for the city of New York to find a suitable scapegoat to feed the current anger of the black community toward the NYPD.”
At today’s event, Chan stood up and accused Colton, as well as Councilman Mark Treyger, of failing to show up to Liang’s trial, prompting a brief screaming match during which the pols accused him of being divisive. Chan — who has been trying to launch an anti-Colton political campaign — was booted from the event shortly thereafter. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA) has been similarly criticized for failing to send representation to the trial.
Here’s Treyger expressing his support for the Asian American community at today’s press conference:
During the Brooklyn Supreme Court trial, prosecutors charged that after recklessly firing his service weapon and striking Gurley, Liang failed to immediately report the incident or render aid to the dying victim.
“This defendant ignored official training that he received as a police officer – specifically never to put his finger on the trigger of his gun unless he was ready to shoot and his reckless actions cost Akai Gurley his life – a life that Peter Liang had sworn to protect,” said District Attorney Thompson. “It’s also important to note that this jury’s verdict was against one officer and not against all of the brave and dedicated members of the NYPD who risk their lives every day to keep us safe.”
Liang’s defense attorney Robert Brown argued that the shooting, though tragic, was not a crime. He urged jurors to find Liang “not guilty,” arguing that the cop was justified in keeping his gun drawn in the dimly lit stairwell to anticipate the possibility of an ambush.
Shortly after Thursday’s verdict was announced, the NYPD moved to fire Liang’s partner Officer Shaun Landau, who testified at the trial that instructors at the Police Academy allowed recruits to cheat on their CPR tests.
Liang is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14.
Correction [February 13, 7pm]: An earlier version of this article stated that Liang is from Gravesend. He is from Bensonhurst. We also misidentified Liang’s mother as Liang Wei; her name is Fanny Liang.
Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein.