Politics plays unspoken role in Chinese-American officer's indictment

Updated: 2015-02-17 11:12

By Chang Jun(China Daily USA)

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Chinese communities around the globe are ready to welcome in the Year of the Ram, which will fall on Thursday. Many Chinese Americans, meanwhile, are paying close attention to the case of an indicted New York City police officer who risks being sacrificed as a scapegoat by politicians to ease lingering tensions between the police and the public.

Officer Peter Liang, 27 was indicted on Feb 11 by a grand jury on charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault, reckless endangerment and official misconduct in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in a darkened Brooklyn public housing complex stairwell on Nov 20.

Liang, a Chinese American on the force for 18 months, was patrolling the Louis H. Pink Houses in November when he fired a single shot. The ricocheted bullet killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley, who was walking downstairs at the time.

Calling Curley "totally innocent", New York Police Commissioner William Bratton responded to the scene immediately and characterized the shooting as an "unfortunate accident", hinting there was no suggestion that Liang intended to shoot the man.

However, on Feb 11, the circumstances surrounding Curley's death led to a manslaughter indictment against Liang, which could carry a prison term of 15 years.

The indictment of Liang is the first in more than two years involving a fatal encounter between a police officer and civilian in New York City.

Chinese communities on both coasts have expressed their concerns about the handling of Liang's case.

"Why are the outcomes so different of Liang's case compared to other police encounters that took the lives of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island?" asked Peter Du, a member of the Flushing Chinese Business Association.

A cell-phone camera captured the arrest of Garner on July 17, after a police officer restrained him with a chokehold despite Garner saying he couldn't breathe. Garner died shortly afterward.

"Why did the officers involved in both cases walk out free without criminal charges?" asked Du. "It's not fair."

Du said that different Chinese organizations in New York and on the West Coast are orchestrating big rallies to call for a fair and transparent handling of Liang's case.

Swann Lee, president of Boston Forward Foundation and an Asian American rights activist, who is following Liang's case, said she had noticed that Liang's partner on the same patrol with him that day had received immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against Liang.

A New York Post article on Feb 12 indicated that Liang's fate was sealed by his partner Shaun Landau, as Landau's grand jury testimony played "the key to notching the top charges".

The Post cited a law enforcement source as saying, "I don't think you would have any case against Liang without the testimony of Landau."

"How much the grand jury would buy Liang's partner's testimony (in ruling the case) remains a question to the community," Lee said.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News wrote on Feb 12: "Officer Peter Liang's indictment in Akai Gurley fatal shooting is for the Eric Garner case, too."

Refuting Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson's remarks that "the two cases have nothing to do with each other", Lupica said they are inevitably linked by politics.

Politics plays unspoken role in Chinese-American officer's indictment

"Eric Garner was killed by a fatal chokehold during an arrest in Staten Island," Lupica wrote. "Officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted in his death."

Lupica believed that in addition to Thompson's claimed pursuit of justice, "this is also about politics, and that means racial politics".

"But it is fair to ask, whatever Thompson is saying in public, if he goes at Liang this hard if the city hadn't reacted the way it did after there was no indictment in Eric Garner's death," Lupica wrote. "It is as fair to ask if Thompson goes at Liang this hard for something that happened in a dark corner of the city, one of the places that cops try to keep safer."

Liang pleaded not guilty on Feb 11 to all charges against him.

Contact the writer at junechang@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily USA 02/17/2015 page2)