BREAKING: Peter Liang Will Not Serve a Day in Jail for Killing Akai Gurley

Peter Liang
Peter Liang

Despite being convicted earlier this year of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Akai Gurley — an unarmed Black man — former NYPD police officer Peter Liang was sentenced today to only 5 years of probation and 800 hours of community service after the judge in his case reduced his conviction to the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide. Consistent with Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson’s unexpectedly lenient recommendations, Liang received no jail time from Judge Danny Chun for taking Gurley’s life in 2014.

Liang’s sentencing had been delayed a week after Liang’s attorney attempted to vacate Liang’s manslaughter conviction on grounds of juror misconduct; that motion failed late last week.

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Liang’s unusually lenient sentencing was not unanticipated after Thompson’s recommendations last month. In New York City, the vast majority of judges sentence according to prosecutors’ recommendations, and previous examples of police officers convicted in civilian killings resulted in similarly light sentencing and no jail time served.

Yet, the sentencing remains unusual given the judge’s bizarre decision to reduce Liang’s charge, and to hand down a sentence that is in fact more lenient even than the one sought by prosecutors. Jurors in the case had consistently agreed that despite sympathizing with Liang, the merits of the case warranted a second-degree manslaughter conviction, which in New York state typically results in a 3-15 year jail sentence if the offender is not a police officer. The question then becomes, why do police officers routinely receive different treatment? In this case, why did Liang receive not only the benefit of a charge reduction, but a lighter sentence to boot?

Liang’s light sentencing remains yet another unmistakable example of the criminal justice system unbalancing the scales of justice to protect members of their own fraternal order and help police officers escape justice. Meanwhile, the criminal justice system once again declares — as it so frequently does in the deaths of people of colour — that our lives quite simply matter less.

As his niece pointed out in an op-ed, the light sentencing of his killers meant that Vincent Chin’s life was worth only $3000. Today’s sentencing of Peter Liang reveals that the criminal justice system values Akai Gurley’s life at far less even than that: at a mere 800 hours of community service.

Gurley’s friend, Melissa Butler, who administered CPR to Gurley as he lay dying in the Louis H. Pink houses in late 2014, said in a victim impact statement to Liang:

“You took a piece of me, you took a piece of my heart.

“Akai took his last breath and died in my hands,” Butler said. “I’m suffering while you still have your life.”

No one on any side of this case seeks to apply undue suffering in this case. But, we must always seek justice. If my own child had been shot and killed by a negligent police officer — one who fired blindly into the dark despite repeated training otherwise, and then who upon discovering the consequences of his actions failed to administer life-saving measures or call for an ambulance — I could not call this outcome justice. Could you?

The system failed the family of Akai Gurley today, and we should all be ashamed.

I wrote a piece for Quartz last month. Its final paragraphs bear repeating:

I worry that too many of those who support Liang are effectively engaged in a self-serving racial tribalism that pays lip service to racial equality while implicitly demanding access to white privilege. We must resist coveting the role of the oppressor. And Liang’s fate proves that the benefits of “model minority” status are in fact transient—and easily revoked.

It is time for Asian Americans to choose differently. We must fight for a system that protects innocent lives beyond our own. The thousands of Asian Americans who showed up to rally for Liang cannot claim to support equality if they do not also take to the streets in the coming months to demand accountability from police officers charged in the deaths of Freddie Gray, Anthony Hill, and Walter Scott.

It is not enough to show up for racial justice only when an Asian American is involved. A system that undervalues the lives of black Americans and other people of color can never truly value the lives of Asian Americans.

Today, an Asian American police officer did, indeed, receive a license to take a Black life with little consequence.

Inevitably, Liang’s supporters will see today’s sentencing as an unmitigated victory, and evidence of their growing political clout. Perhaps it is, albeit, we must all agree this “victory” of theirs would be a hollow one. Today, the agitation of the Chinese American community allowed a police officer who took an innocent life to walk free.

The question remains: Will they show up for Freddie Gray, Anthony Hill and Walter Scott tomorrow?

Correction & Update: An earlier version of this article failed to note that Judge Danny Chun overrode the decision of the jury and reduced Peter Liang’s conviction from second-degree manslaughter to the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide immediately prior to handing down the sentence. This post has been updated to reflect that point.

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  • Leo R

    Correction:
    [The girlfriend of Akai Gurley], Melissa Butler, who administered CPR to Gurley as he lay
    dying in the Louis H. Pink houses in late 2014, said in a victim impact
    statement to Liang:

  • Luffy Black

    I’m starting to wonder if we even have anyone on our side at all…

  • sister_h

    Typo: “Liang’s friend, Melissa Butler, who administered CPR to Gurley …” Should be “Gurley’s friend, Melissa Butler…”

  • sister_h

    No jail time is not acceptable. Why should police officers be allowed to kill with no consequences? He deserves to go to jail.

  • sister_h

    Don’t give up. There are a lot of people who believe that this lenient sentence is a travesty of justice.

  • Whoops, thanks! Furious frantic typing = typos

  • Guest

    Damn. I really have no words for this. I knew this was coming but you know..

    Another tragedy that will come out of this is that ALL Asians-due to the fact that here in America people for the most part cant tell the difference between the ethnic groups that make up Asia America-will be seen with a suspicious eye (as if they havent been already due to the Model Minority Myth) instead of just the Chinese supporters of Liang. This could affect some of the coalition building that many Backs and Asians have worked hard to build. Now Asians will be forced to work twice as hard to prove that they are not seeking white privilege by any means necessary.

    The Chinese community will not only have problems within it’s community due to this verdict, they’ll have problems with other Asian communities as well. They’ll be blamed for causing them to be seen as “white wannabe sellouts” and could affect intraracial coalition building. This especially was something that quite a few of them should have thought about (or have and just didn’t care).

    Sigh.. Everybody brace yourselves..

  • Ryan Clarke

    Once again Jenn- you desperately sought a prison sentence fit for a murderer, and not consistent with the nature of crime involved. The reason the police don’t face the same sentencing as civilians is the same reason nurses aren’t jailed for mistakes. This isn’t new information. (You say you revisited the post given that Liang’s offense was downgraded to criminal negligence- but you still list 3-15 years for manslaughter)

    You claim in your article this proves minority lives don’t matter. Does Liang count as a minority? There were two victims in this case and one tragedy. Rehabilitation doesn’t happen in prison – liberals should know as much. One shouldn’t deviate from this notion just because the accused is Asian or in a rush to kowtow to other minority groups.

    In my conversations with people, I think a lot more Asians are getting tired of Asians speaking on their behalf who so readily take the side of others against them and misrepresent their position.

  • Skeet Duran

    Had the one jury not screwed up, the manslaughter conviction could had held up, and I was sure he would tear calendars for at least 3 to 5 years. This travesty is such a downer.

  • Skeet Duran

    Hey buddy, how do you suggest pan Asian-Black relations should interact?

  • 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 was going to get 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. This article actually tried to compare the race-based murder of Vincent Chin to an accidental fire arm set off by a police officer. 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

    Reappropriate’s credibility is not at issue. Longtime readers of this blog understand that it’s supoort for and understanding of Asian American community politics stands without peer among Asian American bloggers and community activists.

    None of that means that all Asian Americans must or should support Peter Liang, a negligent former police officer whose ill-considered actions killed Akai Hurley.

    Frankly, it does not matter that other cops involved in civilian deaths have escaped punishment — none of that changes the fact that Peter Liang fired the round that killed Akai Gurley. If pro-Liang protesters actually cared about ‘double standards’, they would have protested in favor of punishing people like Daniel Pantaleo. Instead, they focused on reducing Peter Liang’s sentence and securing his freedom.

    This was in error.

    As for the rest, I’m done with the Oppression Olympics. The historical record and present day statistics argue far better about what groups remain oppressed in our society than anything else. Reappropriate respects that detail, and her blog readers have always found that focus useful.

    Everything that Reappropriate has written over a decade and a half online serves the Asian American community. This blog fights, first, last, and always, for Asian America. Sometimes that means she argues against external prejudice, and sometimes that means speaking out against internal prejudices that cripple meaningful coalition building.

    Colin, you’re just not paying attention if you believe that Reappropriate cares more about other groups than Asian Americans. Reappropriate cares about the truth, and the truth here is that Peter Liang deserved punishment for his accidental killing of Akai Gurley. If some Asian American protesters cannot handle that, that’s their problem alone.

    No one else in the Asian American blogosphere tackles Asian American politics and culture with the detail and depth of this blog. The difference between Reappropriate and the other sites you mention is that for those sites, the conversation stops at “That’s racist!” Here, that’s just a starting point. Reappropriate examines why something is racist or otherwise harmful to Asian Americans, even when Asian Americans promote the concept.

    No one downplays Asian American issues here. But it’s true that the feminism championed by this blog, the respect for cosmopolitan coalition-building, and the academic interrogation of Asian American political perspectives found here turn off people who prize race solidarity over good sense.

    Peter Liang was in the wrong. Without concern for what happened with other cops like him, he was still wrong. He, and they, deserve serious prosecution, and every Asian American protester who interpreted equal treatment as a scenario where Peter Liang gets away with killing a Black man just like White police officers deserve to be educated on Asian America’s long activism against police brutality.

    There’s only one blog online today capable of teaching those folk: Reappropriate. Stacey Dash never understands the facts before she speaks. Reappropriate is where Asian Americans go for the facts.

    There’s no comparison, Colin.

  • aaron lieber

    As an asian i am sorry for the life that was taken by the cop peter liang. I still do not understand why ken thompson would ask for time served. I have received more jail time for offenses that would be considered misdemeanors. If cops fire there gun ( accidentally and kill people ) then get away with it., who will protect us from the cops? Does this give us the right to defend ourselves? If a cop pulls his gun on you for no reason, does this give you the right now to defend yourself against these cops. As a father i will say this, if a cop stepped foot on my property he will be required to remove his gun.