On Feb. 11, 2016, NYPD Officer Peter Liang was convicted of second degree manslaughter and official misconduct for the murder of Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, two years after the actual crime occurred. Thousands of protesters are on the streets demanding “leniency” for the rookie, and referring to the Asian male as a “scapegoat” for the offenses committed by white policemen. Many are citing his race as a major factor for his conviction, and arguing that he is being treated more harshly because of the color of his skin. While Liang’s conviction may have been made to appease the BlackLives Matter movement, he is guilty of homicide and should be prosecuted for his wrongdoings.
The circumstances of the case itself are as follows: Peter Liang and partner Shaun Landau were completing a vertical patrol in a housing project in New York City. As they moved through the pitch black stairway, Liang accidentally fired his weapon, which ricocheted off a wall and into Akai Gurley’s chest. The rookie then failed to administer CPR to his victim and delayed contacting medical assistance which could have saved Gurley’s life. Liang was convicted of involuntary murder and official misconduct, and released from the force.
A year-long legal battle ensued, after which the ruling was upheld. Since then, thousands of Chinese-American protesters have denounced the verdict. Many have claimed that whether or not Liang is guilty is less important than the fact that he was singled out while white officers walk free.
While this message is honest and grounded in truth, Liang’s accountability should absolutely not be discounted because other men have walked free. Instead of protesting his conviction, this group should be promoting the values upheld by the Black Lives Matter movement; that is, they should be questioning the lack of previous convictions while still appreciating that Gurley’s family is receiving justice.
For many years now, police departments throughout the nation have been under fire for the poor handling of the murders of many innocent African American citizens. The lack of action has incited protests and anger regarding the injustices. Peter Liang may very well be an offering to appease the general public. Certainly, he is being used to prove that action is being taken for a tragic murder. However, he nevertheless committed a crime and deserves punishment.
Protesters argue that Liang’s actions were a tragedy, not a crime. They ask that some mercy be granted in the form of a lenient sentence. In addition, they note that he is being punished for the faults of white policemen who have killed Black men in the past. They also argue that he may have been convicted by a similar systemic injustice that brought about the death of Akai Gurley.
In that argument, some say that Liang deserves leniency because of poor training and negligence. However, letting Liang go unpunished does not do justice to Gurley and his family. Liang was convicted, and so should be any person guilty of a similar crime.
In this case, race should not matter. A man has taken another man’s life, and therein lie the facts of the case. The gun may have been fired by accident, but Liang’s irresponsibility resulted in death. The officer failed to administer CPR to his victim, and thus failed to complete his duties. Akai Gurley was unarmed and harmless. There was no need for Liang to have pulled the trigger, and therefore no excuse for his conduct.
Leniency based on his race should not be considered. Although many other officers who have committed similar or more serious crimes have been acquitted, protesters should not be requesting that Liang be released from his sentence due to his race. To do so would not give justice to the family of Akai Gurley.
The greatest offender in this crime is the New York Police Department, which sent two unqualified officers on a dangerous mission without proper training. This irresponsibility led to a tragic event. Akai Gurley deserves justice from both his killer, Peter Liang, and the NYPD itself, whose poor training program led Liang to this situation. A third party needs to be held accountable.
Justice was served for Akai Gurley, unlike so many other victims. While Peter Liang may be a scapegoat for the NYPD, he deserves punishment for his crime. Protesting his verdict and begging for leniency is misinformed; instead, the fight should be to provide justice for the many other unarmed African Americans who were killed by police neglect.