Thursday, April 21, 2016

And this week in #BlackLivesMatter...

Akai Gurley. Photo via New York Times.
Chauncey de Vega reacted to the sentencing of Peter Liang, the Chinese-American NYPD cop who just got five years of probation and 800 hours of community service for his homicidal misconduct causing the death of an entirely innocent and unarmed black man in a dark housing project staircase, Akai Gurley, and I thought, because of my contact with the local Chinese community, I should try to communicate something of their point of view on the case, so I left the following comment:

 is Peter Liang's relative lack of punishment for killing Akai Gurley one more creeping step towards honorary whiteness for Asian-Americans? Or is the fact that Liang, a Chinese-American, was even prosecuted for killing a black man (when white cops rarely are), a reminder of how East Asians are still a relatively marginalized racial group in the United States?
The latter according to New York Chinatown, which is extremely agitated over the fact that the white murderer of Eric Garner goes completely free in spite of evidence that is completely publicly available while Liang is punished for what amounts more to culpable incompetence than malicious crime.
Chinese community organizers have been trying to make it very clear that the killing of Akai Gurley was a terrible and unjustifiable thing and that Liang should indeed be held accountable, but he should not be made a scapegoat for the fact that white officers can kill black people with impunity. It's felt in the community the authorities want to demonstrate that they care when black people are murdered by police, but can't seem to do it until the cop in question is a minority member himself.
Doesn't mean the judge necessarily did the right thing here (certainly not the worst he could have done), but that you need to evaluate it in that context..

I'm not going to push this over there and be that white guy who insists on making it a debate and trying to be the winner, but I'd like to use my space here to address what Char says: it looks that way to him precisely because the killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and so many others have gone unpunished. If it were normal for justice to be done in these cases, we wouldn't be looking at this one so hard and so bitterly.

Peter Liang was probably a bad cop who shouldn't have been issued a gun. He was unjustifiably fearful, he panicked, he violated many rules, and after he pulled the trigger he seems to have been more worried about himself than his victim. But he did not aim his gun at anybody, and it was wildly improbable that his bullet would ricochet its way into a man's heart. Only it did.

Also, as Alan Feuer points out in today's Times, there's a lot of blame in the Gurley case that we can all share in New York City, voters, regulators and civil servants, Liang's own supervisors, the very facts of extreme inequality:
Would a private building on the Upper East Side have had an elevator persistently out of service as was the case at the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York? Would the stairwell lights in such a building have been broken? Would armed officers — one of them with his gun drawn — have been on patrol inside?
The argument is just that he shouldn't be treated less leniently than all those white cops who consciously and deliberately took black lives; he shouldn't be the only person to be held accountable; he shouldn't have to bear all the responsibility for all this killing with which he had nothing to do. And the fact that the only person convicted of any crime (so far, we'll see what happens in the Freddy Gray case) in this plague of murders is a person of color—that's an injustice too. 

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