I’ve been following the news surrounding Peter Liang ever since he was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the accidental killing of Akai Gurley back in February of 2016.
Liang is a Chinese-American N.Y.P.D. police officer.
Gurley was an innocent black man.
There are many sides to this case. It’s perplexing and difficult to understand so I’ve decided to break this up into three sections: the initial indictment of Liang and the verdict that came down through a jury, the misguided protests that were sparked by the verdict, and what all of this means for the Asian-American community as a whole.
The Indictment and Verdict
This case first caught my interest when I noticed a yellow man all over my Yahoo! News feed. The first thing I saw was a video of Liang reacting to the jury’s verdict. I watched as the jury ruled him guilty of second-degree manslaughter and as he sat there in a truly gut-wrenching moment of disbelief, knowing that he had the possibility of serving up to 15 years in prison, it was difficult for me to not sympathize with Liang.
If I had watched the video without actually reading the various reports on what transpired, I would have most likely believed that Liang was an innocent man and that the justice system was setting an example out of a rookie Asian cop to alleviate the negative notions that the public holds in regards to the policing of this nation.
I won’t get into the details of the case, but the one thing that swayed my opinion was that there were eyewitness reports stating that Liang did not even attempt to help Gurley in any way.
Instead, Liang and his partner argued over who would call their superior.
The man was scared. I get that. But, I still undoubtedly believe that Liang got what he deserved.
Every human that carries a lethal weapon in public, such as a handgun, as part of their day job has be held to a higher standard. I understand that he was scared and when his gun went off, it was because he was startled. But, guess what? That comes with the job description as a police officer and I’m willing to bet Liang knew that going in.
I also have a hard time believing that his gun went off because one of his fingers flinched in a moment of fear. I’ve never shot a gun before, but there’s no way that a trigger can be pulled that easily.
If an officer can’t correctly handle the most deadly object on their service belt under stressful situations and gets an innocent man killed along the way, their actions need to have some dire consequences. Now, how serious his punishment should be is something I can’t really dive into.
Personally, the indictment made sense. It was the right call. At the very least, Liang should have gotten a case built up against him, which is exactly what happened.
It seemed like justice was finally served this time around. I had absolutely no problem with the jury’s ruling. I read the reports and the eyewitness accounts and it was clear to me that Liang handled the situation in the absolute worst way possible.
On the other hand, while the ruling was a correct one, I do believe that the initial indictment was a direct result of the desperate cries from the public concerning police brutality. I also think the indictment came about largely due to the fact that Liang is a man of Asian descent. I hate to say it, but I think indicting Liang was much easier than indicting the other officers that have been in similar circumstances in the past.
The thing that angers me most about the indictment is the fact that the officer that choked Eric Garner to death, which was caught on fucking camera, gets off scot-free.
How is it possible that Liang, who only had eyewitness testimonies going against him, gets convicted of second-degree manslaughter, but the cop that held Garner in a chokehold gets to roam the streets without even a charge to his name?
It’s honestly great that the justice system finally got it right this time around, but this indictment should have came down a long time ago.
It should have came down when Garner was gasping for breath. It should have came down when an unarmed Michael Brown was fatally shot and left to die with no one around to comfort him. It should have came down for Tamir Rice and it should have came down for Freddie Gray. I could literally go on and on and list all the names that have criminally been lost at the hands of police officers.
There are countless other police officers that could have been held accountable for situations that were much worse than the one Liang was in and yet, the face that was chosen to represent police brutality towards blacks is yellow.
Do I believe that if Liang was white that he’d be a free man as of today? Not 100 percent, but I have no doubt in my mind that he has a higher chance of walking away than Liang did. I think if it was a white man in the same exact situation, the outcome of this fiasco would be completely different.
The Misguided Protests
After Liang’s conviction, major protests erupted in several big cities. There were thousands of Asian-Americans yelling “Justice for Peter Liang” with pickets that read “One Tragedy, Two Victims.”
Personally, the protests were, for lack of a better word, weird. To me, all of the protests and cries for justice seemed empty. The whole endeavor didn’t seem to have any backbone. All of it just seemed a bit too rushed. It was as if they were all waiting for the just the right moment to rush to their printers and put on their activist jackets that they’ve all been so hesitant to include in their fashion rotation.
Then, about a week ago, I happened to come across an article reporting that the Brooklyn district attorney’s office would not seek any jail time for Liang. Instead, they suggested that he be put on six months of house arrest amongst other small punishments including community service.
I couldn’t believe it.
Here I was, reading yet another report on how yet another police officer is probably going to be given their freedom while yet another black man wrestles in his grave.
I just don’t get it. It’s alarming how much immunity a police officer has when it comes to the law.
Why are policemen held above the law?
For this next part, I want to hone in on a particular video that went viral after Liang’s guilty verdict.
At first, I thought it was a great statement and I agreed with her for the most part. But, after watching it multiple times and really dissecting what she’s actually saying, I’ve come to disagree with some of her points and the message she’s trying to convey.
She states that she and the rest of the protesters are “angry because [they] are also hurt by the systemic injustices and the structural oppression and the racism that continues to pervade this country.”
While I agree with this sentiment, I can only ride it to a certain extent.
I agree that there is a huge structural problem within our justice system. I also agree that there is a rather guerilla-type form of racism and prejudice that’s been institutionalized and passed down from generation to generation.
I want to give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that she’s talking about black people, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
No matter how I look at it, I have a hard time believing that either of these two problems have affected us (Asian-Americans) that much. She states that they’re not asking for white privilege and I think, for the most part, she’s telling the truth. But, what I don’t think she realizes is that people of yellow skin have a form of privilege in the United States that other skin colors don’t. And I also think that she’s reaching for that privilege.
If we put aside all of the bullshit and all of our worries about being politically correct, I think we can all agree that “yellow privilege” very much exists.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not the same as white privilege. The Asian population of this country is not free from the chains of racism and prejudice that have such a fierce grip on many minority groups.
But, at the same time, I’ve been pulled over about five times throughout my 23 years of existence and I have not one time been afraid for my life. I’ve never had to worry about being brutalized, let alone be asked to step out of my car. The biggest worry I’ve had was figuring out a way to victimize myself and try to explain to my mom that the ticket I received wasn’t my fault.
So, no, it’s not the same as white privilege.
My parents worked tirelessly to give me the life I have now. I’m not trying to discredit their hard work, but let’s not ignore the fact that the Asian-Americans of my generation have inherited a lesser form of white privilege through the hard work of the generations that have come before us.
And I think that’s where these misguided protests stem from. I believe a lot of these people were upset because their yellow privilege, which a lot of Asian-Americans are blind to, was being violated.
The reason why we haven’t been in the narrative of racial injustice as of late is because, generally, the people of the United States think very highly of our breed. Our stereotypes have us becoming lawyers and doctors, not gangsters and drug dealers. We’re seen as hard workers. Our supposed brain power throws a shade over our lack of height and muscle prowess. If we can speak decent English and have a little bit of money, we’re honestly going to be coming home to a nice suburban household and a decent, peaceful life.
The “One Tragedy, Two Victims” signs seriously pissed me off.
The only victim in this situation is Gurley.
Liang is not a victim.
The only thing Liang might be the victim of is the failings of a police department that put him out into the field when he was obviously not ready for it. But, that’s a whole different discussion for an entirely different day.
If we’re strictly speaking in alignment with the current conditions of the police departments across the United States, then this ruling is the correct one.
He wasn’t found guilty because of the “sins of a nation.” He was found guilty because he got an innocent man killed, whether it was an accident or not.
What It All Means for People With Yellow Skin
Our. Voice. Matters.
We’ve finally been written into the narrative of racial and ethnic inequality that’s been the crux of debates around the country, both civil and political.
If the discussion of racial and ethnic inequality is the professor, Asian-Americans are the students that sit in the back of the classroom, ducking behind the Muslim girl’s head scarf while hoping the teacher will call on the Hispanic sitting next to them. The black guy’s been up at the board for a while, trying to find a sensible solution to centuries of institutionalized racism that exists in this country.
No one wants to be a part of this classroom. In an ideal world, the color of a person’s skin wouldn’t matter and everyone would believe in the same god. Unfortunately, that world is much more fairy tale than it is reality.
Racism and bigotry is realer than it’s ever been and people are getting hurt and, ultimately, killed because of it.
But, the one thing that was disconcerting about all of this was the fact that Asian-Americans, as a minority group, waited all this time to voice our opinions.
Where were these activists when Garner was choked to death? Where were these cries for justice when an unarmed Brown was shot and killed? Where were these people for the likes of Rice and Gray?
Where was I? Where was my voice in all of this? Why am I just now writing about this?
So many of us had our lips sealed and keys thrown away long before Liang came along.
I’m not saying that Asian-American activists don’t exist. I know for a fact that there is a small population of Asians out there that have been fighting tirelessly alongside other citizens that are seeking justice throughout America.
But, I think for my immediate Asian-American community, and more specifically, for the Koreans of my generation, this next sentiment rings true.
We are an eerily silent and sometimes invisible minority.
It didn’t really matter to us before because we couldn’t relate. None of us are victims of police officers who have a trigger on their brutality. None of us are labeled as terrorists. None of us are deemed lazy or thought of as a race that brings drugs and rapists into the country.
I shamefully admit that it didn’t actually matter to me.
Sure, I liked a couple of Instagram posts of NBA stars wearing the iconic “I Can’t Breathe” shirts during their pre-game shoot arounds, but my fingers never itched to type up #blacklivesmatter and my feet never had the urge to march alongside protesters. It’s only after a yellow cop gets convicted of manslaughter that we start to shout “justice.”
And to top it all off, we’re screaming into our megaphones about the wrong fucking thing. The protests digressed to the point where a group of Black Lives Matter supporters showed up and held anti-protests against the Liang crowd in New York City. (This is actually shown in the video. There’s a small crowd with a #blacklivesmatter banner, but the video was edited to make it seem like it was all part of one, unified, protest.)
We should have pictures of Garner and Brown and Rice and Gray on our pickets, not pictures of Liang next to Gurley as if they’re both victims of the same thing.
I’ve come to the realization that the biggest obstacle a lot of justice seekers face are people like myself. There will always be problems within America and there will always be movements to fight against them. The real problem lies within the people, such as myself, that choose to keep everything at arms-length until we’re forcibly removed out of our thrones that have been built on decades of comfort and privilege. It’s the uninformed and inarticulate that create the biggest roadblocks.
So much of what’s happening around the world will one day be written in our children’s history books. We must stay informed and cut apathy by its roots.
There’s really no excuse anymore because, quite frankly, we’ve exhausted all of them.
This post was tough for me to write. I put it off for awhile. There was a stretch where I convinced myself that it wasn’t necessary. I was convinced that if I wrote and shared this post, I was somehow betraying my own kind.
In a lot of ways, I still feel that way. I feel obligated to side with the group that looks like me.
But, when I heard that the DA’s office wasn’t going to seek any jail time, it woke me up like an unwanted phone call five minutes before your alarm is set to go off:
The way our nation looks at the lives of people with black skin is deeply shallow and all the more troubling.
What if Gurley was an Asian man?
What if Liang was a black police officer?
Would the prosecutor still seek zero jail time?
It’s seriously so depressing to see how devalued black lives have become. It’s easy not to care because it’s become somewhat of a norm within the past few years.
But through it all, I still believe that there’s hope and if there’s ever a time to start caring, now is a better time than any.
Until next time,
*NOTE: I fully know that when I say “Asian” that this word can mean two different shades of color. I just wanted to point out that I am indeed only talking about people of East-Asian descent whenever I mention the word “Asian” or “Asian-American.”*