World / Reporter's Journal

Liang case could be turning point for Chinese-American influence in US

By William Hennelly (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-02-24 06:41

The mobilization of Chinese Americans in response to the manslaughter conviction of a New York City police officer could be a watershed moment for their political standing in the US.

Last weekend, tens of thousands of people across the United States protested the guilty verdict returned on Feb 11 by a Brooklyn jury against Peter Liang, a rookie NYPD officer, in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, 28, in November 2014.

Liang, now 28, discharged his gun in a darkened stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, and the ricocheted bullet fatally struck Gurley on a lower floor.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Liang was reckless, more concerned about losing his job and showed indifference to Gurley's injury. He didn't attempt to provide CPR, choosing to wait for paramedics to arrive, witnesses testified.

But many of the protesters countered that the shooting was an accident and that a rookie officer without CPR experience should not have been sent to patrol a dangerous area.

They also allege that Liang was scapegoated because an African-American man once again had died in an incident involving police, and someone had to be held responsible.

Many protesters made sure to express condolences to Gurley's family and also mourned his death. Some Chinese Americans, including New York City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, also spoke out in favor of Liang's indictment.

Still, the overarching message of the protests seemed to be that the Chinese won't be quiet or taken for granted, even in a case with racial elements.

New York gets tense in such incidents, whether they happen here or elsewhere in the country. Another notorious incident involving the death of a black man, Eric Garner, sparked waves of protests around the city. Garner died in July 2014 in a confrontation with police on Staten Island, who had accused him of illegally selling cigarettes. The officer who was filmed with his arm around Garner's neck was not indicted.

The city also had seen protests related to other violent incidents involving police and black men, including the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Freddie Gray in Baltimore; and Laquan McDonald in Chicago.

The Chinese seemed to be sending a message that the community will not abide by judicial expediency. They expect to be treated evenly in US courts, and Liang's case, which many saw as an unintentional killing, was not as clear cut as others in which officers were not even indicted or were acquitted.

A petition calling for the withdrawal of Liang's indictment reached almost 124,000 signatures on The Obama administration responded that it "has no role in the decision of a state or local prosecutor to prosecute or not prosecute a case, and so we are not in a position to address the specific request of the petition."

"The local entities — in this case, the District Attorney's office and the New York Police Department — will be the best source for information on this matter."

The political influence of Asian Americans is clearly rising. This year for the first time, New York City schoolchildren were given the day off for Lunar New Year, a day also now celebrated on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

But suspicion and finger-pointing about China and Chinese persist in the US, over any number of topics such as cybersecurity, the South China Sea, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the trade imbalance and the value of the Chinese currency.

Such issues come up frequently in the 2016 presidential campaign, and China invariably is on the wrong end of the commentary.

There probably always will be wariness between the two countries as long as they have such different political systems, but the cultural, economic and educational exchanges between the US and China are still expanding.

China sends more college students to American universities than any other country. Chinese companies also invest heavily in their own subsidiaries in the US and provide Americans with jobs.

When there is a disconnect in the political and judicial realms, it is jarring to those vested in the vast exchanges between the two nations.

The Liang verdict could serve as a signpost for Chinese Americans, and based on the turnout at the protests last weekend, they expect their voices to be heard.

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