An African-American was fatally shot by a police officer. 

I doubt this is the first time you’ve heard a news headline like this one. But the protests that resulted from this particular shooting were quite different from the ones that resulted from similar shootings. To cut to the chase, I am talking about the shooting of Akai Gurley, which happened on November 20th, 2014. Although the shooting happened over a year ago, Peter Liang, the perpetrator of the crime, was found guilty by a grand jury in February 2016, and thus I consider this a relatively current event. 

Socials Studies Inquiry Process

When I first discovered that this issue was raised, I wasn’t able to articulate how I felt about the matter quite yet, as I didn’t have enough information. So, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What exactly happened that day?
  • Why did Officer Liang pull the trigger?
  • Why does the Asian-American community feel so negatively towards the shooting? 
  • Why exactly was Peter Liang convicted?
  • What are some previous situations similar to this one, and were the police officers found guilty?
This is a diagram showing the a view of the stairwell in which Akai was shot. Taken from DNAinfo’s article about the same issue.

(The answer to these questions are scattered throughout the blog post, not just in this heading.)

Two rookie police officers that were a part of the NYPD were conducting a vertical patrol (a vertical patrol is basically when officers will scan a housing complex from the roof to the ground, and stopping at each of the floors to see if there is any suspicious activity going on). Then, Akai Gurley, the man who was shot, just entered the seventh-floor landing in which Officer Liang had just entered. Liang was startled by his appearance and his gun “accidentally discharged” as he opened the door, and the bullet ricocheted and hit Gurley in the chest, who died shortly after the shot.  

Significance

ap_637075965061-a7484c0884d4dcae72c270cb6aa3205cf15e6566-s800-c85
Protests of Liang’s conviction, photo taken from npr.org’s article.

As mentioned, the Asian community has been protesting his indiction by expressing dismay, outrage and frustration. Anytime people are using their voices and freedom of speech to speak out against something that has happened should be looked at in more detail. Whenever a jury has made a controversial decision about the way a human spends the next few years of their life, it is essential that we closely look at the judgement and find evidence to differentiate right and wrong so that true justice prevails. 

Finally, whether or not Liang should be considered guilty does not change the fact that he killed an innocent man due to his reckless behavior. We need to seriously re-evaluate the way that police departments like the NYPD train their officers so that fewer shootings like this happen in the future. When these components are added together, I believe that this is a very important current event. 

Evidence

So, what evidence has been gathered about the killing?

Officer Liang stated he was startled by a sound, and so his muscles tensed up, causing him to pull the 

A picture of the weapon used to kill Gurley, taken from NYpost.com.

trigger. However, according to an news article by the Atlantic, a NYPD Glock has twice as much trigger resistance as one sold to the public. It also uses a “Safe Action System”, which is designed to avoid the accidental shootings that Liang was talking about. The jurors had also pulled and tested the trigger themselves, and determined that it was very hard to shoot the gun unless you definitely intended to pull the trigger. I think this is the evidence that ultimately led to Liang’s conviction. 

So why did Liang pull the trigger, if it wasn’t an accident? Note the difference between intending to pull the trigger and intending to kill Akai Gurley. There is no evidence that Liang wanted to kill Gurley; there is not even evidence as to why he even shot the gun in the first place. I don’t believe he pulled the trigger to kill Gurley on purpose, but an official explanation has not yet been proven. 

The sources I used were very current, and many of them were from adequately professional news corporations such as the Atlantic or the New York Times. Of course, there might be a few errors here and there, but overall I think the sources I used were good.

Continuity and Change (Causes)

I think a large reason that this even happened in the first place was the lack of poor training that Liang had

People seeking Justice for Briana Ojeda, who died ultimately because an NYPD officer stopped her trip to the hospital and did not perform CPR on her. Taken from Google Images.

received from the NYPD. Even Liang’s partner in this shooting was a rookie, and so it is startling that a police department would send two inexperienced officers out together on a dangerous mission. This is not the first time that an NYPD officer has controversially  attacked a citizen. Whether it was the shooting of Ramarley Graham or the death of Eric Garner, the NYPD has thousands of documented cases demonstrating police misconduct, including brutality.

It was also confirmed that neither Liang nor his partner performed CPR on Gurley after he was shot, which is part of the reason that Liang was considered guilty. However, Liang said that he received little CPR training during his time in the Academy, and his partner also testified to this statement.  


This isn’t the first time the NYPD’s poor training of CPR costed somebody their life.

In 2010, while 11-year old Briana Ojeda suffered from an asthma attack, Officer Mendez pulled over her mother, who was driving her daughter to the hospital. After being begged for help with CPR, Mendez simply smirked and said “I don’t know CPR”, then even tried to ticket her. 

It’s horrifying to me that many police officers like Mendez and Liang, people that are meant to make us feel safe in our community, are not capable of performing this essential life-saving task.  

Perspective

As expected with controversial issues like these, different perspectives have formed.

The most notable one would have to be the perspective of the Asian community. I can definitely see why those that are protesting Liang’s conviction feel the way they do. When you factor in that previous officers like Daniel Pantaleo (who killed Eric Garner) and Darren Wilson (who killed Michael Brown) were exonerated

A poster put on a pole protesting the ‘murder’ of Akai Gurley, taken from Google Images.

for what they did, it is definitely frustrating for some of the Asian community to see Liang being the “only” one found guilty. It simply seems unfair to them. After so many black men have been killed by police officers, why is the first officer to be found guilty an Asian?

Another perspective would be of the Black Lives Matter movement. They protested this police killing, and wanted Liang to be punished. On the Black Lives Matter Facebook page, they commented about the shooting, “At the heart of our movement work is a deep and profound love for our people, and we are rooted in the belief that Black people in the U.S. must reassert our right to live be well in a country where our lives have been deemed valueless.” They rallied last year to protest in Brooklyn, but ever since Liang’s indiction it has been the Asian community that has been making the most noise.

Ethical Judgments

So, how do I feel about all the protests that have been going on?

A picture of Akai Gurley, taken from Google Images.

Putting myself in the Asian protestors’ shoes, I can understand the frustration. I also cannot help to wonder what the result would have been had the officer that shot Gurley been white. However, I urge these protestors to realize that Liang did intend to pull the trigger, and that Liang did not even attempt to perform CPR. These are the facts that ultimately make him guilty of manslaughter and reckless endangerment. And when we look at past white officers such as Michael Slager, who was arrested for the murder of Walter Scott, the claim that Liang is a scapegoat for past officers’ mistakes loses some credibility. 

At the same time, we must realize that Liang was under-trained, and not prepared for the mission he was on, and for this, we cannot blame anybody but the people that trained him in the first place. I understand the frustration that the Black Lives Matter protestors feel, because another black life has been taken at the hands of a police officer, and that has happened too many times in the past few years. But Officer Liang is not the one to blame for the death of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice; he was simply a rookie officer that made a grave mistake.

However, we can do things to ensure that less events like this happen in our future. For one, police departments need to vastly improve the ways they train their officers. They should put more time and effort into developing proper CPR training courses, and they should emphasize that guns should only be pulled out as a last resort in order to avoid potential accidental shootings. 

Ultimately, it is tragic that another event like this has taken place. But I hope that the Asian community thinks more carefully about what it means to support Liang. We should instead be sending prayers to Akai Gurley’s family, as an innocent member of their family was killed due to the reckless and unprofessional behavior of a police officer, Asian or not.