Peter Liang Case Takes New Turn and Race Debate Continues

Peter Liang Case Takes New Turn and Race Debate Continues
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

The high-profile case involving New York police officer Peter Liang, who shot and killed Akai Gurley in November, 2014, took a new turn this week when the Brooklyn Supreme Court delivered its sentence.

This February, a jury found Liang, a Hong Kong American who was a rookie cop at the time of the shooting, guilty of manslaughter. This week, the Supreme Court downgraded that finding to criminally negligent homicide, citing the lack of evidence that Liang being aware of Gurley’s presence.  

Liang was facing 15 years in prison, but the Court has lowered the sentence to 800 hours of community service and a five year probation.

The prosecution plans to appeal the reduced the sentence, stating that “the evidence established that his conduct was criminal and the rule of law demanded that he be held accountable for his actions in taking Akai Gurley’s life.”

Last week, Liang attempted to apologize to the victim’s family, but Gurley’s girlfriend, Kim Ballinger, did not accept the apology. She told him, “I just want to let you know that your actions that night have left my daughter without a father, have left me without a partner.”

The case continues to divide the community. Earlier this week, seven protesters, using drums and megaphones, were arrested outside the District Attorney’s house at midnight for disturbing the peace. The DA had earlier recommended the reduced sentence.

Some Chinese-American groups questioned the new sentencing, asserting that it would “send the message that it is okay to kill innocent and precious lives, as long as it is done by a police officer.”

Gurley’s aunt saw the ruling as the perpetuation of racism against Blacks saying, “There’s no justice. Akai Gurley’s life does not matter. Black lives do not matter.”

Meanwhile, for those who thought the arrest of Liang was racially-motivated the reduced sentence served as vindication of his innocence.

Less than two months ago, more than 10,000 people, mostly Asian, protested demanding Liang be freed. Citing the Eric Garner case where the death of a black man in the hands of a white police officer resulted in the officer found not guilty of manslaughter, they saw the initial manslaughter ruling as a institutional mistake.

Writer Jay Kang voiced the concern shared by many in the Asian-American community who believe “that Liang deserved to be convicted of manslaughter, but who also wonder why it was the Asian cop, among many other equally deserving officers, who took the fall.”

At the very end, questions still remain over the actual motivation of the case.

“We still feel this was a politically motivated prosecution,” said demonstrator Karlin Chan. “Nobody really won here.” Protesters saw this as “selective justice,” where Liang was discriminately prosecuted by the criminal justice system.

Edited by Edward White

The Atlantic
Christian Science Monitor