One Tragedy, Many Victims. The Peter Liang verdict further exposes racial bias in the law enforcement system.


Picture yourself just getting out of the police academy and instead of getting sent to a city like Carmel, you get sent to a public-housing project in Detroit, Memphis, Tenn. or Oakland, Calif., cities with some of the highest violent crime rates in the United States. If that were me, without a doubt, I’d be pretty scared for my own safety as well as that of those around me. On top of that, you are surrounded by pitch-black darkness as you patrol the area. Then, you hear footsteps approaching you. If you were armed, what would you do? Would you take action and wield the weapon?

Such was the unfortunate case of Peter Liang, who was a rookie Asian Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.39.51 AMpolice officer in the New York Police Department before he was convicted of manslaughter and sent to jail last month. The reason? In this exact scenario, out of what he said was fear, he fired his gun in the dark in no particular direction, and the bullet ricocheted off a cement wall and hit an African-American man walking down the nearby stairwell.

On the surface, it looks like history has repeated itself in that another African-American man was killed by a police officer. However, looking deeper, this particular case is much different from others involving murders committed by police within the past few years. In three recent cases that have sparked significant outbursts—Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice—each ended with the death of an African-American, but they all also ended with the eventual acquittal of the police officer who committed the murder.

In Liang’s case, though, the details of the verdict make it even more controversial than the other police brutality cases. Although murder is considered a crime itself, this specific scenario seems to be more of an unfortunate tragedy mainly because Liang claimed he never intended to kill anyone, unlike the officers in the other three cases who seemed to have purpose; in other words, this case looks like just an accident. Another interesting detail to note is that the three officers in the cases of Garner, Brown and Rice who were acquitted are Caucasian, while Liang is Asian. While the courts in all of these cases may not have intended to make decisions based on race, Liang’s case alludes that such bias could have influenced the decision much more than it should have.

The responsibility of the court system is to deal with such cases with an unbiased eye and impart a consequence accordingly. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, law enforcement officers are convicted and/or incarcerated at a pretty low rate already, let alone for protest-sparking murders perceived to be based on racial bias. Less than 40 percent of all police misconduct cases reported face criminal charges in court. Of those that do get reported, only about a third of them result in convictions. Furthermore, only about a third of those convictions result in incarceration. However, if you’ve paid attention to the news, you notice that many of the most widely covered cases (which seem to have received overwhelming coverage due to the protests objecting the verdicts that came afterwards) have resulted in acquittal of the law enforcement officer. And most of those officers involved just happened to be Caucasian.

Considering the verdicts of these police brutality cases, Liang’s conviction could seem like an anomaly among seemingly similar cases that came before it. Out of four significantly broadcasted cases, three resulted in acquittal, almost to the point that the public perceived that they could predict the police officer would get off the hook for the murder he convicted. Four cases may not be enough to show a trend. So with Liang’s case, it definitely could have been just a coincidence that a non-Caucasian police officer who allegedly claimed that the murder was an accident has been convicted. However, was this really a coincidence, or did the jury really have some deeper motive? We may never truly know unless we have more future cases to consider, which hopefully we won’t, but it still gives the impression that the system is not effectively holding up its responsibility to be objective.

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Sarah Liu at [email protected]