When three Asian American children were trotted out in front of a national audience as both the props for and the butt of a joke delivered by Oscars host Chris Rock, mainstream attention was momentarily placed on the extent to which Asian Americans face racism. Ironically enough, Rock’s joke simultaneously demonstrated anti-Asian racism while it relied upon the model minority stereotype, a trope that has long served to obscure anti-Asian racism.
The problems with the model minority myth are legion. I am not here to debunk the model minority myth—thereismuchacademic and popularwritingonthesubject—but to examine one effect of its prevalence in public discourse: confused narratives of Asian American aggrievement.
For the last several days, jurors had deliberated Liang’s fate after hearing details about how Liang fired a single round from his service weapon while he and his partner, NYPD police officer Shaun Landau, were conducting a vertical patrol in the heavily-trafficked stairwell of a residential apartment building. Prosecutors argued that Liang acted recklessly when he fired into the darkness of the unlit stairwell despite ample police academy training that instructed him and all officers to not place their fingers in the trigger well of their weapon unless they are ready to fire a shot; jurors also heard that Liang’s weapon required 11.5 pounds of force in order to pull the trigger, a modification specific to police service weapons ensuring that they need nearly twice the force required to fire compared to commercially-available handguns to minimize accidental discharges.
Two weeks of evidence came to a close when Liang took the stand to tearfully testify that he pulled the 11.5-pound trigger of his service weapon and a fired a shot into the darkened stairwell of a residential building when he was “startled” by an unknown, and that he failed to give CPR when confronted by a dying Gurley in the stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses because he didn’t feel like he had sufficient training to perform the life-saving measures and that Gurley’s friend — who had never learned CPR — would be better for the task. As for why he never called for help, Liang’s defense claims that his call for an ambulance was never recorded in official transcripts of the incident because reception in the stairwell was “spotty”.
The manslaughter trial against Peter Liang — the police officer accused of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man killed when Liang opened fire with his service weapon in a darkened stairwell — began yesterday with opening statements by both the prosecution and the defense, and the calling of two witnesses. Liang’s case has been viewed as one of several examples of state violence against Black bodies in recent years, and several activists (including myself) have rallied in support of the Gurley family in calling for Liang and all other police involved in suspicious shootings against unarmed Black citizens to face criminal accountability. Late last year, news media reported that Liang had elected to face a jury trial in the case against him, and in the last week, jury selection resulted in a juror pool consisting of only one African American jury member and no Asian Americans.
Liang’s supporters seemed largely unswayed by the details that have emerged about the fateful moment in the stairwell of Louis H. Pink Houses in late 2014 that left Akai Gurley dead by the police officer’s hand.
The trial against NYPD officer Peter Liang, who fatally shot Akai Gurley late last year in a darkened stairwell of the Louis H. Pink public housing building, began this week with Judge Danny K. Chun denying the defense’s motions to have the charges dismissed. Liang is charged with six counts, including manslaughter in the second degree, reckless endangerment, and official misconduct. Revealing for the first time a number of details in the circumstances surrounding Akai Gurley’s death, the New York State District Attorney’s Office unsealed a document outlining the case against Liang.
To read the 57-page document is illuminating, and it weakens the argument made by some that Officer Liang’s indictment is an instance of racially motivated scapegoating. Indeed, the prosecution meticulously outlines a series of reckless violations of police protocol by Liang and his partner Officer Shaun Landau in the minutes leading up to Akai Gurley’s shooting at approximately 11pm on November 20, 2014, and Gurley’s death an hour later.