Op-Ed: Finally, justice for Black America

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 2:39pm

Late last month, protesters marched through the streets of Ann Arbor and many other cities (including several thousand protesters in New York) to demur the conviction of ex-officer Peter Liang. The Asian-American NYPD cop who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after his gun accidentally discharged and struck Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, in the stairwell of his Brooklyn apartment building. Though Liang was supposed to administer CPR to his victim, he failed to do so as Mr. Gurley lay dying on the steps of his own residence.

The protesters claimed that Liang was only convicted because of his Asian-American racial identity, and he was consequently used as a scapegoat by the justice system (with the implication being that if Liang were a white officer, he would have avoided any formal punishment). The demonstrators brandished signs that read “condolences to Akai Gurley, justice for Peter Liang” and chanted “equal justice for all” throughout the protest. Regardless of what they explicitly said, however, many people, including myself, only heard a group asking, “Why can’t we get away with killing unarmed Black men, too?”

I am in no way trying to diminish the very real roadblocks the Asian community faces in this country. From unfounded prejudices and stereotypes to flat-out discrimination, Asian Americans are no strangers to the racist tendencies of American society. However, demanding “justice for Peter Liang” implies that justice has not already been served, or even worse, that being found guilty of second-degree manslaughter is somehow an injustice — that true justice would only be achieved if the court treated Liang with greater leniency or dropped charges altogether.

Second-degree manslaughter is defined as either a crime of passion that was not premeditated or — as it pertains to Liang — “a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender's obvious lack of concern for human life.” While I am about as far from a legal scholar as one can get, it doesn’t take a Supreme Court justice to see that not announcing your presence while your finger is on the trigger is dangerous conduct, and standing idly while your victim dies helplessly shows little concern for human life. Peter Liang is guilty of second-degree manslaughter, and in my eyes — and the eyes of the court — the only injustice would be for him not to be charged with a crime he obviously committed.

To quote an op-ed from one of my coworkers at the Daily, “Since 1999, there have been more than 175 fatal shootings in New York City by on-duty officers. Of these, only three have led to indictments … only one shooting led to a conviction.” That statistic is why I feel the conviction of Peter Liang is just. For far too long, police officers have been treating their access to weapons like a hunting permit against oppressed minorities.

At long last, the justice system is standing up for the voiceless who are killed without a second thought. Even if this is a one-time thing, even if Officer Liang is being used as a scapegoat, calling his punishment an injustice is disingenuous. The fact that other officers get off when they kill unarmed minorities is the real injustice, not the fact that Peter Liang was convicted. Likewise, the other officers’ killings do not make Peter Liang’s shooting of Akai Gurley any more acceptable. Instead of asking myself, “Why should Liang be convicted when other officers are not?” I’m hopeful that in the future, all cops  who kill innocent people — regardless of race —will be given the same justice that Officer Liang received.

Though I’m not optimistic that future officers who shoot guiltless people will receive similar treatment, this conviction is still a step in the right direction, because at least someone is finally being held accountable for killing an innocent person.

Jason Rowland is a senior editorial page editor.