Many Asians Express Dismay and Frustration After Liang Verdict


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Vendors in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a neighborhood with a large Asian population. Many residents objected on Thursday to the guilty verdict for Officer Peter Liang, who is Chinese-American.

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Dave Sanders for The New York Times

As the jury read the verdict — guilty — in the manslaughter trial of a New York City police officer whose gunshot into the stairwell of a public-housing building killed an unarmed man, the officer, Peter Liang, crumpled in his seat in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, his face falling into his hands.

In the courtroom gallery on Thursday night, his deflated posture was mirrored not just by his family, but also by some of the Chinese-language newspaper reporters present, and by the supporters, many of Asian descent, who had rallied around him.

Their courtroom sentiment reflected the feelings that have swelled throughout the city’s Asian enclaves since Officer Liang’s indictment last year and that have peaked following his conviction. Many have rallied around the officer, who is Chinese-American, describing him as a scapegoat who was targeted at a time when there is a roiling national debate about the policing of black neighborhoods. And it has pulled at a thread long woven through the city’s Asian population, which sees what happened as yet another example of the mistreatment of a marginalized community, ill-equipped to fight back.

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Mandy Lu, 43, a stylist in Manhattan’s Chinatown, felt that Mr. Liang’s race had influenced the verdict.

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Dave Sanders for The New York Times

“In the wake of unfortunately so many deaths of unarmed black men, some cops gotta hang,” said John C. Liu, referring to what he contended was a widespread opinion. Mr. Liu, the former New York City comptroller who ran for mayor in 2013, has been vocal on social media about his belief that Officer Liang was unfairly singled out. “The sentiment in the Asian community is: It’s easier to hang an Asian, because Asians, they don’t speak up.”

A bullet from Mr. Liang’s gun ricocheted off a cement wall and killed Akai Gurley, 28, an unarmed black man and the father to two young girls, as he walked down the stairs in the Louis H. Pink Houses, a public-housing project in East New York, Brooklyn, on November 20, 2014. Throughout the trial, Mr. Gurley’s family had framed the shooting along different racial lines, saying it was another example of unjustified police violence against black men.

Mr. Liang, who was fired from the Police Department immediately after the verdict, faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced by Justice Danny K. Chun of State Supreme Court. (Justice Chun is Korean-American.)

On Friday, in Manhattan’s Chinatown and in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, another heavily Asian neighborhood, Asian-Americans denounced the verdict at various gatherings. At a news conference at the Chinatown offices of the Lin Sing Association on Mott Street, an advocacy group, Mr. Liang’s defense team fielded questions from the audience, but played down the suggestion that his ethnicity played a role in the case.

“People of all races are saying that if Peter Liang were not Chinese or were not a person of color, maybe he wouldn’t have been convicted,” said Robert E. Brown, one of Mr. Liang’s lawyers. “I honestly don’t know. I don’t think that our jury deliberately said, ‘Let’s convict this person because he’s a person of color.’”

Joseph Lin, a real estate agent and activist who had organized rallies at City Hall last winter after Mr. Liang was indicted, expressed frustration over what he said was the tepid response of Asian-American officials and community leaders. For too long, he said, Asian-Americans have been too passive or indifferent because “they don’t want to be troubled; they don’t want to be bothered.”

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John C. Liu, the former New York City comptroller.

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Michael Appleton for The New York Times

“If you’re a group that doesn’t have a voice, a political voice, you will be mistreated,” added Mr. Lin, who plans to organize a protest over the verdict on Sunday.

“If he’s a black officer, I guarantee you Al Sharpton will come out,” he said. “If he’s Hispanic, all the congressmen will come out. But no, he’s a Chinese, so no one is coming out.”

Christine Leung, 52, a retired New York police detective, said she had attended every day of the trial, often sitting next to Mr. Liang’s mother and serving as an interpreter for Mr. Liang’s supporters. She said she felt it was her duty to do so as an officer and as an Asian-American.

“People never look at us as Americans,” she said. “We are part of the thread of the community. But there is something that is so grossly biased.”

The divided public opinion over the verdict speaks not to an ethnic divide, Ms. Leung said, but to the weakness of the case. “If he is reckless and he did something so terribly wrong, there should be no argument,” she said. “Then everybody would be saying, ‘He’s guilty.’ Why are people so split?”

On Friday, numerous groups on Chinese-language social media services like WeChat quickly formed in support of Mr. Liang, their members expressing dismay at the verdict.

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Donald Moy, 71, owner of Mee Sum Coffee in Manhattan’s Chinatown, said that what happened was a tragedy, not a crime. “The case is 100 percent by accident,” he said.

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Dave Sanders for The New York Times

But support for Mr. Liang among Asians was far from unanimous. During a nearly three-week trial, Mr. Gurley’s family, including his aunt, Hertencia Petersen, and the woman with whom he was raising the two girls, Kimberly Ballinger, were surrounded by volunteers and advocates who acted as the family’s guards and spokesmen. The group was once known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, founded in the 1980s in response to mounting violence against Asians. It now calls itself Caaav and has expanded its mission to protest police mistreatment of anyone, regardless of background.

Cathy Dang, the executive director of the organization, described the tightrope that she and other supporters of Mr. Gurley walk, between a sense that Mr. Liang was treated unfairly and a desire to seek justice for victims of police abuse.

“Peter Liang is not a white officer, and he is being the one who is thrown under the bus,’’ Ms. Dang said. Referring to Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died on Staten Island after an officer put him in a chokehold, she added, “Meanwhile, white officers have not been held accountable.” None of the officers involved in the Garner case have been charged with a crime.

“We have always said this case only means that we want to make sure that white officers be held accountable,” Ms. Dang said.

She said Caaav came under fierce criticism from many Asians for its support of the Gurley family. “I hear it and I feel for them,’’ she said. “I understand that they feel like he is a scapegoat, but at the end of the day, a life was stolen from a family, and Officer Liang is part of a system that does it to many other people, and we can’t keep giving police officers impunity.”

On Pell Street in Chinatown, a day after the verdict, Donald Moy, 71, sat reading newspapers at a cafe he owns, Mee Sum Coffee. He was unequivocal. “The case is 100 percent by accident — the bullet ricocheted,” he said. “So many cases involving white officers, only one involving a Chinese, and one-two-three, they’re finished. That’s it?”

At Kelly Hair Salon nearby, Mandy Lu, 43, a stylist who lives in Chinatown, became overwhelmed with emotion as she tended to a customer. “You have so many police that have been so extremely abusive,” she said in Mandarin. “Why do they have to make an example of a Chinese?”



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