Supporting This Chinese-American Cop Who Shot a Black Man Only Makes Racial Tension Worse


This is how the justice system is supposed to work: You do something wrong, you pay for it. 

Of all the attempts to prosecute police for killing unarmed black men in the past eight months, Peter Liang's most closely follows that model.

Neither former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, who was responsible for the death of teenager Michael Brown, nor Daniel Pantaleo, who strangled Staten Islander Eric Garner to death, were charged for their actions. But a 27-year-old New York Police Department rookie will stand trial for shooting Akai Gurley in a darkened East New York housing project in November, and that, America, is a good thing.

This should not be a controversial decision. On April 26, a small network of Chinese-American civil rights organizations plan to protest Liang's indictment. They say he's a victim of racism himself: Why, they ask, did two white officers (one of whom is also a New York policeman) get away with killing unarmed black men while Liang, who appears to have shot Gurley by accidentally discharging his weapon, is punished?

"The serious and severe charges brought against Officer Liang are highly irregular for what we can see was a pure accident," Doug Lee, co-chairman of the Coalition of Asian-Americans for Civil Rights, told Mic. "This seems to be targeted against Chinese-American communities. It's hard to believe that Liang is not a scapegoat."

Yet while protesters say Liang is a victim of racism, these groups dismiss the death of Gurley, an innocent man, as incidental.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Plus, they're missing an important point: Racial equality can't be selective. Equality is for everyone, so either everybody is equal, or racial equality doesn't exist. It's absurd to claim that equality for Chinese-American police officers means granting them the same impunity to kill unarmed black men as white police officers.

Justice, in this case, means that officers Wilson and Pantaleo get indicted as well — not that Officer Liang goes free.

"Rather than to probe more deeply into political structures of racial inequality, the pro-Liang side simply accepts that because two white officers were not indicted under similar circumstances, Liang should not be either," Jenn Fang, founder of the race and culture blog Reappropriate, told Mic. "This leaves [these protesters] in the dubious (and ironic) position of arguing against the constitutional civil right of due process for both Officer Liang and his shooting victim, Akai Gurley."

Plus they're missing the big picture.

"Ultimately, we need to get at how different communities are affected by white supremacy," Dante Barry, executive director of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, told Mic. "And we need to dismantle this framing that people of color can't also be cops. The race of the police officer doesn't matter if they're perpetuating the same system."

Richard Perry/AP

So here's the real problem: Akai Gurley is dead. Peter Liang shot him. Gurley may have been allegedly shot by accident in a dark hallway with low visibility, but that does not take away from the shooting's racial dimensions. This tragedy took place in the Louis Heaton Pink Houses, a housing project in one of the most concentrated areas of black people in Brooklyn, where low lighting indicates systemic neglect, in addition to over-policing and disproportionate arrest rates are the norm.

Liang was on a "vertical patrol," a practice largely reserved for rookie cops, in which police patrol up and down the stairs of project buildings, searching for illicit activities and making arrests. Critics have called out this practice as an example of misplaced priorities. "If we were as aggressive in policing the housing conditions as we are in policing the residents," this might have never have happened, Council Member Ritchie Torres told the Huffington Post.

So yes, let's talk about unfairness. Let's talk about racism and inequality. But let's do so with perspective — and with the recognition that "equality" for one group cannot and must not take shape over the dead bodies of another.