There is No “Chinese” Side of Justice

(Photo credit: Fusion)

By Guest Contributor: Timmy Lu (@timmyhlu)

This post was first published on Facebook, and has been adapted for publication on Reappropriate.

There’s a widely shared and watched video floating around the web (after the jump) that features a Chinese American woman speaking at protests organized after a jury found Officer Peter Liang of the NYPD guilty of manslaughter in the killing of Akai Gurley.

It’s a slick and convincing video that uses the kind of politically correct, in vogue language that typically appeals to many Chinese and Asian American progressives like myself.

The message is also absolutely wrong.

22-year-old ABC on Peter LiangListen to a 22-year-old American-born Chinese woman explain why she’s angry over Peter Liang’s conviction.

Posted by Fusion on Monday, February 22, 2016

In the video, Jess Fong speaks passionately and powerfully about White supremacy and the injustice of a system that lets White officers off the hook for killing Black people. She then pivots with an unsaid “but” to the central demand of the protests: leniency in Liang’s sentencing.

Black Lives Matter. Full stop. There can be no “buts”, or redirects, or clever rhetorical tricks. Akai Gurley mattered, yet Peter Liang took Gurley’s life. A jury deemed that shooting an accidental killing, and so convicted Liang of the appropriate charge of second-degree manslaughter. There is no “somebody else’s life matters, too” in this story. Gurley’s life was the only one that was unnecessarily taken away.

Communities impacted by oppression should speak for themselves and should be the center of crafting the demand for justice — this is one of the pillars of the environmental justice movement, in which I work. Black people across the country are demanding an end to police violence. That call is not about holding only White cops accountable, but about holding all cops accountable.

When protesters demand that Peter Liang be freed and call him a “scapegoat”, you reject solidarity with the Black community. You instead suggest Liang did nothing wrong or, more insidiously, that his prosecution was only because of Black protest; as though nationwide, Black people are marching in the streets demanding that only Asian cops be held accountable! (Hint: they’re not, and it’s not about you!)

(Photo credit: Fusion)
(Photo credit: Fusion)

You cannot claim allyship when you frame a victim (Gurley) as equal to his killer (Liang), and then you elbow your “One Tragedy, Two Victims” sign up to the front. If protesters want to sympathize with Gurley’s family, you should support the Gurley family’s call for justice. You can fight other instances of police violence against Black people. You can show up in the streets and get your bodies in the way of the White supremacist system you claim to hate and that oppresses you too. It is true that punishing Peter Liang will not topple the system. But, damn fellow Chinese people, getting Liang off the hook will never get justice for Akai Gurley.

So what is this about?

This is partially about the political opportunism of Chinese conservatives, who would unquestioningly support the police, landlords, and business interests anyway. As a political force, these conservative Chinese have no interest in racial justice and would end affirmative action because they think it unfairly benefits Blacks and Latinos and hurts more “deserving” Chinese. These are the die-hard nationalists of the Chinese American community, who would strive to end White privilege and replace it with class and socioeconomic privilege — nice neighborhoods, education, wealth. These people alone won’t turn out in the thousands, but they have enough infrastructure to encourage and compel others to.

Chinese national identity over the last several decades has finely tuned Chinese people to the history of Chinese humiliation by the West. It’s a sentiment easily accessed and readily tied to the exclusion that many Chinese immigrants feel about American politics and society. Among immigrant Chinese, the feeling of being just visitors – or, human “bridges” (??) to the homeland — is still very real. I’m therefore not surprised that when some Chinese people feel victimized or targeted, my people will rally. But too often they don’t rally for justice for all, but justice for themselves. That’s what exclusion does: it forces you to turn inward, to trust only your own people even when they steal your wages or evict you, or to put your head down and play the game so that you can get the privileges of class and maybe Whiteness.

Toss in implicit bias, latent racism, anti-Blackness, or whatever you want to call the prejudicial beliefs inherent in feudal cultures or American ideology, and what emerges is a rotten stew that spoils any attempts at solidarity. So when Chinese Americans speak at a Peter Liang rally about White supremacy, they can only do so from the perspective of their own struggles as a Chinese American.

My day-to-day work is about organizing Asian Americans into a progressive political bloc that fights oppression in all its forms. I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of a New American Majority. That is: a political force of Black, Latino, Asian, Native, Pacific Islander and progressive White voters that transforms American politics in the next century. Civil rights lawyer Steve Phillips breaks this down in detail in his new book “Brown is the New White”. So for me, the question of what these demonstrations are really about is an important one. In the protesters now mobilized to consider Whiteness and racism, I see great possibility, but frankly that possibility is still held back by narrow self interest.

As the country shifts to become a majority people of color, the most important question for us is: “Chinese people, who’s side are you on?” Because there is no “Chinese” side of justice.

“A system that doesn’t value Black or Brown lives doesn’t value Asian lives either.”

#Justice4AkaiGurley #BlackLivesMatter

Timmy Lu

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) where he organizes Asian American communities for environmental and economic justice. He is also a member of Asians for Black Lives.

Learn more about Reappropriate’s guest contributor program and submit your own writing here.

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  • Nivek

    “But too often they don’t rally for justice for all, but justice for themselves. That’s what exclusion does: it forces you to turn inward, to trust only your own people even when they steal your wages or evict you, or to put your head down and play the game so that you can get the privileges of class and maybe Whiteness.”

    so my question for you is this, and i’m sincerely interested. the perception out there is that BLM and any black rights organization only fights for blacks, as they tend to never speak out against black on asian hate crimes.

    who is fighting for asians. wanted to know if you can share your thoughts on your double standards.

  • Colin128

    This is why blogs like reappropriate don’t have credibility. Nobody contests that the police officer was convicted and that an innocent civilian died in a tragedy. The issue at hand is other cops have also had accidental events, NO jail, and this Asian American cop gets the harshest penalty. THERE ARE double standards, and those are worth pointing out. Asian Americans always get screwed over by this country’s judicial system and I’m tired of apologist Asian Americans always downplaying issues for Asian Americans in favor for black or feminist rights first. Those are all important too, but in no other activist group do you see people in there who actively care more about OTHER activist-group issues more. Asian Americans honestly have the lowest power/leverage and are the most vulnerable/weakest in US media, judicial system, and politics, and it’s because of all the APOLOGISTS.

    AngryAsianMan and 8Asians are actually blogs representing Asian Americans. Reappropriate is a special interest blog that puts Asian Americans 2nd/3rd, and this post (among many others too) only serves to further confirm that. Certain viewpoints expressed in this blog are only a few degrees away from being Asian American versions of Stacey Dash (albeit not as crazy as Michelle Malkin levels)….

  • MelaninManson

    Colin128, the solution for those who believe that Peter Liang has been unfairly singled out is to advocate for all police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed civilians to be criminally investigated, charged, and convicted if the facts warrant. That’s what happened to Peter Liang, and that shows the system can work, some of the time.

    You’re under no obligation to agree with this guest post, or to support But your inference that certain Asian Americans support “black or feminist rights” before supporting Asian Americans is absurd and silly. Instead of focusing on diversity in entertainment to the exclusion of all other political and social topics, dedicated itself to articulating Asian American feminism, to empower those silenced both within and outside the Asian American community.

    Don’t pretend that a guest post that disagrees with Chinese American protesters who decry the sensible and reasonable functioning of the criminal justice system to force accountability on a municipal police department somehow illustrates some failure of this blog to support Asian Americans. Sometimes the best way to support one’s community is to explain where certain community members are wrong in their thinking.

  • Leo R

    I found this protest to be somewhat disheartening really. It must be stated that Peter Liang killed a random person whom he did not even confront previously. The worst part is that some people even claim that by happenstance a life of a drug dealer and therefore a life that didn’t really matter was taken. I believe that the law was carried out in the way it was supposed to be in this case.

  • Skeet Duran

    The issue at hand is other cops have also had accidental events, NO jail, and this Asian American cop gets the harshest penalty.

    I’m a hardcore Asian defender and standby my own people most of the time, once in a while I’m allowed to deprecate Asian guys to provide them some constructive criticisms, that’s the traditional traits of our Asian culture values because we care. I’d like to believe your quote above is true, however it’s more believable if it’s backed up with some factual statistics. Is it really true that all other accidental convictions in the past had no jail time, or less than the maximum sentence of 15 years? Are there some reliable stats to this? Many of Liang defenders went to the protests assuming this is true without doing research to know the actual stats.

    I don’t believe Liang will serve the full sentence, with good behaviors he would be out at the latest 10 years.

  • AsteroidSized Zit

    These blogs can only do this because Asian Americans have a weak identity. Most identify with their ethnic/national group and those doors are closed to these blogs. These blogs will NEVER speak for those ethnic/national groups.

    Asian Americans only have an identity if they put Asian interests FIRST. Without apology and reservation. Stop trying to push Asians to fight for blacks while sweeping racism from other POC under the rug.

  • AsteroidSized Zit

    It is not silly. How many reappropriate posts talk about black assaults against Asians?

  • AsteroidSized Zit

    It’s not even that blacks don’t speak up for Asian issues. Nobody expects them to. Asian American problem is other AAs demanding others in their community put black issues first. They are the same ones who clamp down any time Asians want to talk about racism or actual assaults from other POC.

  • AsteroidSized Zit

    The law is either applied fairly and equally, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, the justice system MUST be protested.

  • pzed

    Let’s think about this one.
    Michael Brown pushes Asian store clerk around after shoplifting from his store. Jenn supports Mr. Brown and says virtually nothing regarding the store clerk except to throw a little shade on him.
    Football recruit Soso Jamabo fetishizes Asian women. Jenn sides with Asian women.
    Black student instigates racial violence against Vietnamese as Penn State and Jenn absolves him and blames instead the “racial environment.”
    Tyrelle Shaw assaults 4-6 East Asian women. Jenn calls him a racist misogynist but laments his suicide. I’ll give a pass on this one. I didn’t want him to die by suicide on this either, but only so he could get his retribution in jail.
    Tim Tai gets pushed around for taking pictures as a reporter covering black football players who are camped outside on the Missouri campus. Jenn supports the football players and is completely silent on what happened to Tai.
    Chinese, Pakistani and Indian groups sue Harvard claiming racial discrimination. Jenn not only disagrees but goes on to advocate for more discrimination against Asians.
    Peter Liang fires bullet that ricochets and kills Akai Gurley. We all know who Jenn supports here.

    I have not doubt Jenn supports Asians and she’s done plenty to demonstrate that. But when it comes to blacks vs Asians, it appears that she mostly supports Asian women when they’re explicitly targeted, but pretty much otherwise sides with blacks. I can’t blame her especially for that view, but it certainly makes me extremely skeptical of anything she says when a black person is involved.

  • AsteroidSized Zit

    Thanks for the rundown. The original charge was that putting black or feminist rights before Asian Americans was “absurd” and “silly”.

    Doesn’t seem so silly anymore? Asian Americans have no future unless they seize their identity. She can speak for herself, or as a feminist, but you see the problem if her type is the voice for Asian Americans in general? Time and time again Asian Americans get thrown under the bus. By whites, by other POC, by Asian Americans with other priorities.

  • Leo R

    I absolutely agree. I felt really bad that George Zimmerman was let off the hook. However, I believe that jurors simply applied the law – laws that in my view should be changed. I also believe that officer Adam Lin lied about what happened when he shot and paralyzed a black man and that it’s a shame that the laws are protecting him.

  • MelaninManson

    Your skepticism is noted. As is the fact that the post above was written by a guest contributor.

  • MelaninManson

    The only problem I see is the preference for racial tribalism conservative Asian Americans express with every incident. The Peter Liang conviction is not about Asians vs. Blacks. It’s about police accountability. Liang discharged his service weapon haphazardly, with clear disregard for the safety and security of the unarmed, innocent civilians within the densely populated apartment complex he searched. Everyone recognizes that this was an accident, but that does not absolve Liang of the responsibility to preserve public safety he violated.
    When Asian Americans like the guest contributor, Timmy Lu, recognize this, certain conservatives from their own community respond with disdain and scorn, as if racial solidarity matters more than one’s capacity for reasoned analysis. This is a problem. Without any interest in racial identification, Peter Liang was in the wrong, and this mistake cost Akai Gurley his life. There’s simply no reason to believe that Asian Americans in general or Chinese Americans in particular have been wronged by Liang’s conviction in any sense.
    There’s no problem when voices like Timmy Lu’s take on the conservatives who prefer racial tribalism over all other perspectives within Asian America, just as there’s nothing wrong when Reappropriate dismantles strains of misogyny, sexism, and racism within Asian America. Asian Americans are NOT ‘thrown under the bus’ in this space. They are challenged to apply reason and inclusive values to the political and social world in which we live. Challenge yourself to learn more about the writing here before you condemn this site as unworthy of speaking about your people.

  • MelaninManson

    I don’t know, but the site does come equipped with a search device. Please look that up if you are curious. But why does this have to occur to satisfy you?

  • AsteroidSized Zit

    Thanks for admitting and spelling it out that this site does NOT put Asians first, and instead has other agendas. There is a reason why people like you can’t field comparable numbers on the ground for protests.

    Your attempt at wedging using American politics won’t work, and it is both sad and disgusting that you try. Funny how POC unity is so important (even if it is at the expense of Asian Americans), but people like you will use politics to purposely try and divide Asian Americans. Shameless. Are you even Asian btw? Because what you just tried to do is extremely concerning if you are not.

    Your attempt to spin the topic also won’t work. Jenn’s record when it comes to blacks and Asians is crystal clear.

    This is what happens when people with ulterior agendas try and speak for Asian Americans.

    Even worse, they always tend to dismiss the race factor when Asians are the victims. We see this in the record compiled by pzed. Btw, don’t think people haven’t noticed you blatantly avoided addressing that.

  • Luffy Black

    Is that how you felt with Trayvon or Zimmerman’s killers were left off the hook?

  • Luffy Black

    But too often they don’t rally for justice for all, but justice for themselves. That’s what exclusion does: it forces you to turn inward, to trust only your own people even when they steal your wages or evict you, or to put your head down and play the game so that you can get the privileges of class and maybe Whiteness.”

    There shouldn’t be a protest at all, an innocent man was killed. If you’re supporting Liang then you’re not for justice, you’re just fighting for the slice of white supremacy pie. The police justice system has known to be racist and was formed to catch runaway slaves, but you wouldn’t know that would you? Seeing as though you’re uninformed, I’ll have you know that the black officers who did unarmed killings were also arrested as Liang was.((See the Freddy Grey case)) Surely you would since you care about “accountability.”

    “so my question for you is this, and i’m sincerely interested. the perception out there is that BLM and any black rights organization only fights for blacks, as they tend to never speak out against black on asian hate crimes.”

    I’ll tell you what you can do. You can round up your friends and family and protest brutality against Asian Americans from WHITE SUPREMACY instead of stepping on the toes of African Americans or you can stop using your own people as shields in order to silence talk of systematic racism. Black Lives Matter was formed by a group of black feminists who got sick of our sons and daughters getting killed in the streets like animals by white people and their getting away with it. Short sighted as you are, you don’t seem to get that everyone would benefit from BLM’s actions. They’re combatting systematic racism in the police force and the police state. This will mean accountability for everyone. It’s just like the ya know Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers you heard so much about. Surely you benefited from their actions, but hey you know, blacks only look out for blacks.

    “who is fighting for asians. wanted to know if you can share your thoughts on your double standards.”

    Well you can get off your ass and fight for Asians. Do your part to end systematic racism, but you won’t.

  • AsteroidSized Zit

    Yes, I have no problem with BLM. I assumed they were protesting the garbage Justice System as well. I don’t even care if BLM protests Liang. You act for your priorities based on the identity you choose.

    Make no mistake though, Asian is a racial identity and it is not for Asians to satisfy the approval of non Asians for ANY issue. We also won’t let those who claim a racial identity but act based on another ideological or political agenda to speak for us.

  • NYCO’s

    You know the answer – none

  • NYCO’s

    Give me a break. The double standard is real and undeniable