Large demonstrations with heavy participation by Chinese-Americans were held in support of former NYPD officer Peter Liang over the weekend, in both New York and Los Angeles. The New York Times reports other demonstrations planned for Washington, D.C., Orlando, Philadelphia, and San Diego.
Liang, 28, was a rookie officer who lost his job and was convicted of manslaughter two weeks ago, for the accidental killing of an unarmed bystander in a Brooklyn housing project. Liang could face up to 15 years in prison.
The bystander, who was roughly the same age as Liang at the time of his death, was a black man named Akai Gurley, father of a 3-year-old daughter. He was killed when Liang’s gun discharged, and the bullet struck Gurley in the heart after ricocheting off a cinderblock wall in the darkened stairwell.
The New York Post recounted the complexities of the case in detail when reporting the verdict, including allegations that Laing lacked remorse for Gurley’s death, did not render assistance to the fallen man after the shooting, and might have tried to cover up the shooting to protect himself.
Those who demonstrated in Liang’s support over the weekend claimed the NYPD threw him to the wolves, holding superior officers responsible for sending a rookie officer into such a dangerous area. They said the charges against Liang were excessive for a tragic accident, viewing his trial as political theater, and arguing it would only inflame inner-city racial tensions further.
Most disturbingly, many of the Chinese-American protesters in New York and L.A. described Liang as a victim of racial discrimination, arguing the police department was abandoning an officer of Chinese descent in a way they refused to abandon white cops facing similar charges.
Gothamist, which estimated the size of the New York protest at over 10,000 people, quotes former City Comptroller John Liu telling the crowd: “We understand the pain among our African-American brothers and sisters, who have witnessed the killing of one unarmed black man after another in continuous succession, with no prosecutions against the officers. That is a great injustice.”
“So in an incident where an Asian-American officer shoots his gun, not aiming at anybody, shoots it by accident, we were all shocked last Thursday, when the guilty verdict came out. But were we really shocked?” Liu asked. “For 150 years, there’s been a common phrase in America: ‘Not a Chinaman’s chance,’ which means if you’re Chinese in America, there’s no hope for you.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by rally participants in both New York and Los Angeles, where the L.A. Times noted demonstrators handed out a flier expressing “the deepest condolences” to the Gurley family, but saying they were “equally saddened by the selective and unjust prosecution of Peter Liang, who is made the scapegoat of the police brutality that has long troubled our society.”
“Scapegoat” was a popular word on protest signs, as were phrases such as “Tragedy NOT Crime,” “One Tragedy, Two Victims,” and “All Lives Matter.”
The pro-Liang demonstrators are trying to be inclusive with the latter sentiment, but they should know that particular phrase is considered heresy by the Black Lives Matter movement, which once literally took away Bernie Sanders’ microphone for saying it. Sanders was reprogrammed to avoid saying “all lives matter” in the future.
Some speculate that incidents like the pro-Liang rallies could indicate growing tension between minority communities, as illustrated by the angry Black Lives Matter reaction to anything perceived as diluting its slogan. The point of the slogan is to stress that black lives are especially at risk, and they’re not terribly concerned about black-on-black criminal violence, no matter that such violence accounts for the vast majority of deaths in their community. Their ideology envisions a deadly racist conspiracy — the police as trigger-happy centurions of a white-privilege empire, with black Americans as the predominant victims.
Other groups worried about the unfair treatment of their own members, or the general menace of violent crime, will have trouble finding a comfortable place in Black Lives Matter ideology. The pro-Liang demonstrators took great pains to express sensitivity to Akai Gurley’s family, and the black community’s feelings about his death, but they’re still protesting the sentence against a cop found guilty of manslaughter for shooting a black man.
Indeed, the New York Times reports there was a counter-protest against the Brooklyn rally for Liang, brandishing signs with photographs of Gurley and the slogan “Jail Killer Cops.” Counter-protester Soraya Sui Free accused the pro-Liang demonstrators of lacking empathy: “Peter Liang made a decision for Akai Gurley, and that decision was to die.”
“An organization founded in the 1980s to confront rising violence faced by Asians, now known as Caaav, has supported Mr. Gurley’s family, a move that has drawn threats and harassment,” the NYT reports. “On Friday, a letter signed by dozens of community organizations and elected officials condemned the targeting of the organization.”
The pro-Liang demonstrators are, for the most part, looking for common cause with Black Lives Matter, explicitly arguing that Liang is as much a victim of the racist system as Gurley. That argument will be a tough sell to activists who say their group is uniquely victimized.
There’s also the question of general support for the police. The critique of law enforcement emanating from the pro-Liang demonstrators is decidedly more muted than the fiery calls for revolution from BLM activists. Many attendees at the rallies on both coasts expressed genuine surprise that Liang was convicted on such serious charges.
The L.A. Times story mentions an LAPD cruiser whooping its siren in front of the pro-Liang crowd to show support, earning cheers from the demonstrators in return. The Asia Times describes many attendees at the Brooklyn rally waving American flags and wearing blue ribbons to show their support for the police. That won’t please the more dedicated anti-police crusaders.
Peter Liang supporters who think he’s been scapegoated to protect white officers and supervisors are criticizing the police department in a manner that is only superficially compatible with hardcore anti-cop activists.
This is a process of division, of pressure groups demanding unchallenged supremacy for their concerns, not a search for common ground. There is only one seat at the top of the victimhood pyramid. It’s a little sad to see Asian-Americans, particularly Chinese-Americans in this case, learning to play the race card, but that’s America at the close of the Obama era — every group knows it must stake a claim to victimhood, if it expects positive media or government attention.