Political Expedience and The Liang Trial


Political expedience, although often sinister sounding, is a neutral term.

I got to thinking about this Saturday while walking back to the subway from Cadman Plaza where about 10,000 Chinese – many waving tiny American flags – gathered in a show of solidarity for former NYPD Rookie Officer Peter Liang who faces 15 years in prison after being convicted on manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Akai Gurley in the darkened stairwell in the Pink Houses in East New York.

The November 2014 shooting incident and subsequent indictment followed the summer chokehold death of Eric Gardner while cops were trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, sparking the Black Lives Matter movement. Like many of the innocent black lives lost it was at the hands of white cops. When former District Attorney (and current Congressman) Dan Donovan convened a Grand Jury and failed to get any indictments, the black community, white sympathizers and Mayor Bill de Blasio were outraged.

It was in this political climate that the NYPD, acting against its own acknowledged procedure, sent Liang and another rookie Police Officer Shaun Landau to do a lateral patrol up the darkened stairwell of the NYCHA project. Liang, as is allowed, had his gun drawn and when he heard some noise accidentally discharged one round in his gun.  The bullet ricocheted off the wall, traveled down two flights of stairs and struck Gurley in the heart killing him.

It was in this atmosphere, that Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, who is black, all but vowed to throw the book at Liang. And it helped that Liang was Chinese, which didn’t and still doesn’t have the political muscle to put up any resistance to the powers that be.

The city and country wanted to see a cop hang and Liang was the perfect fall guy, and most of the mainstream English New York media including the New York Daily News and the New York Times wrote and continue to write tepid stories on the incident and on the Chinese reaction.

But like the OJ Simpson trial, which provided a defining awareness moment for many blacks of a certain generation, the Liang case woke up the Chinese community and the Chinese language media to their civil rights.

They saw much of themselves in Liang. A hard-working Chinese man who bought into the American system, worked hard, did the right thing. A man who wanted a solid civil service job with the NYPD, and to honorably help and protect the people in the city.

To be sure, the Chinese community was and remains sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement, and certainly feel horrible about the tragic loss of Gurley, but to them – as many of the placards read at the rally – Liangs’ conviction was one tragedy and two victims.

But to de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Thompson and many black leaders – some of whom agree off the record that Liang was scapegoated – needed a cop conviction and Liang was the perfect fall guy. It was and remains the politically expedient thing to do.

To be sure, several white lawmakers that represent Brooklyn’s large Chinese-American population (where Liang lives) came out in support of their constituents.   This includes Bensonhurst/Bath Beach Assembly Member Bill Colton, Bensonhurst/Coney Island City Council Member Mark Treyger, and Sunset Park/Bensonhurst Assembly Member Peter Abbate. Also on hand was Chinese-American Congressional Candidate Yungman Lee, and Bay Ridge/Bensonhurst State Sen. Marty Golden issued words of solidarity with the community.

Curiously absent or silent on the issue were Congress Member Nydia Velazquez, who represents both Manhattan and Sunset Park’s Chinatown, and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, who also represents Sunset Park’s huge Chinese population.

Perhaps the silence of these aforementioned elected officials is simply because poll numbers indicate the Chinese don’t vote. Indeed, several of the Chinese protesters I interviewed at the rally stated the Chinese community is too busy working to get involved in the American political process.

It will be interesting to see, if the Liang conviction will change that thinking. For as wrong as it is, this community opens themselves up to continued scapegoating if they don’t get involved in the political process. For beyond the Liang tragedy is the fact that there are no Brooklyn lawmakers that speak their language or look like them.

It will be interesting to see if Brooklyn’s Chinese community finally steps to the plate at the ballot box. If for no other reason, it’s the politically expedient thing to do.


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