In the wake of Officer Peter Liang’s conviction of manslaughter in the death of Akai Gurley, a wave of Chinese Americans have rallied across the country in his defense and support. One such event took place in Seattle on Saturday, Feb. 20 and was met by a counter rally of Black Lives Matter protestors.
With the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown the awareness of police brutality against people of color has increased. Since then, several high profile cases have left white officers acquitted and a country begging for change.
The fact that in this rare instance the officer is being charged for one of these deaths is not white but Chinese American has caused many to assert that he is being used as a scapegoat. They question whether he would have faced the same sentencing if he was white, or if he would have walked free like the rest of them.
The opposition between groups seeking justice for Liang and the Black Lives Matter movement have brought Asian American voices to the surface on the topic of racial justice in America. If the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement of Asian Americans for justice could unite, I think real change could happen in this country. For now, creating increased dialogue around this added dimension of race represents movement in the right direction.
Members of the Seattle Black Book Club shared after the Seattle protest against Liang’s conviction that “Upon connecting with their organizers, we attempted to foster a space for cross dialogue. However, our messaging was censored.” They then made their message heard over bullhorns and by taking the stage.
While there is no way to prove that race was a factor for jury members in Liang’s conviction, comparison of similar cases highlights massive flaws in the justice system.
Akai Gurley died from a ricocheting bullet after “Officer Liang opened a door into an unlighted stairwell and his gun went off,” according to the New York Times. Liang then failed to call for an ambulance.
Just four months earlier, Eric Garner was murdered by a police officer administering a chokehold. Another unarmed black man died at the hands of police, yet this time the death was much more hands on. A ricocheting gun in a dark hallway and a lack of proper response is still wrong, but one would think killing a man with one’s bare hands would warrant a harsher punishment.
So why was Liang convicted, while Eric Garner’s killer went free?
Any way the situations are examined, there is something inherently wrong with a system that defines these scenarios as justice.
In an interview with Alex Garland on The Dignity Virus, Seattle Black Lives Matter organizer Palca Shibale stated that “Yes, minority police officers are often more likely to be charged and convicted of crimes relative to white counterparts. All police should be held accountable but that is not accomplished by rallying to free Peter Liang for the murder of Akai Gurley.”
The deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley and so many others have brought the reality of police brutality against people of color into focus for many Americans. This issue, like any other systemic inequality, stems from a poisonous history of hatred that touches all manner of related experiences.
I don’t think that freeing Liang is the right solution. Despite my difference of opinion with their cause, I still see the protests of his verdict as positive.
They are starting conversations about not only the disproportionate dealing of punishment on people of color, but also on how Asian Americans fit into the landscape of race and justice in this country.
With greater diversity of voices calling for justice, we all can move as a country towards true equality in law and in the enforcement of that law.