This past weekend, thousands of protestors swarmed the streets of L.A. to show support for NYPD officer Peter Liang, who was recently charged with second-degree manslaughter in the November 2014 murder of Akai Gurney, an unarmed black man. My community, the Asian-American community, turned up in droves to protest Liang’s conviction, pointing to the plethora of white police officers who have faced no legal consequences for police brutality. Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold in July 2014. Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in August 2014. Timothy Loehmann, who shot and killed Tamir Rice in November 2014.
On the surface, it does seem like an act of injustice. Liang discharged his weapon in a dark stairwell, and his bullet ricocheted off a wall before fatally hitting Gurney. Paralleled with the video evidence we’ve seen throughout the last several years documenting targeted police aggression against unarmed black men, it seems like his conviction is the epitome of white privilege corrupting the system we all coexist in.
The Asian-American community in the United States is in a precarious situation. We’re still a minority community who has suffered a history of discrimination and persecution. From the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882 to the relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during WWII to Vincent Chin’s murder in 1982, every Asian-American feels the burden of being a minority, of being “other.”
We, however, also bear the badge of being the current “model minority:” a minority who rises above systematic oppression and works hard to belay the odds against us. In the 1800s, we were in the place of other minorities, labeled “job-stealers” and “coolies,” with the government limiting our immigration and, for a time, completely stopping immigration from China and Mongolia.
It’s in this dichotomy that I see the problems of the Asian-American community arise. This past weekend highlighted our problems as a community. As the current model minority, there’s a sense of injustice that we don’t benefit from all the aspects of white privilege. Liang’s conviction is a reminder that no matter how clean our image is and how much the media compliments our work ethic, we will never be at the top of the food chain.
The protests this weekend were also a slight to the other minorities we should be supporting. Regardless of your opinion of the prosecution of police officers for murder, Liang shot and killed Akai Gurney, who was unarmed. He’s another police officer in the corrupted system that promotes and accepts police brutality against minorities, particularly the black community. There’s room to argue that Liang’s conviction is another case where a minority was scapegoated to protect the status quo, but the problem is not that of Liang’s conviction, it’s that rules aren’t thoroughly and consistently enforced for police officers across the country. Rather than calling attention to the perceived injustice of Liang’s conviction, the Asian-American community should be calling for police officers like Daniel Pantaleo, Darren Wilson and Timothy Loehmann to face the consequences of their actions like Liang will.
After the events of this weekend, I feel that the Asian-American community has forgotten where we should stand. We are better than the stereotyped racist caricatures other people see us as. By not supporting other minorities’ struggles, we push ourselves into a corner where we will not only be systematically oppressed, but looked upon disdainfully by other minorities. Our struggles, our issues aren’t limited to the Asian-American community. Instead of standing behind Liang, we should acknowledge his wrongdoing and fight for other police officers to be convicted for murder.
As a minority, we should fight alongside other minorities to disassemble the system that is rampant with prejudice and discrimination, rather than seek privileges and promote the system of racial equality. By fighting for Liang, we forget our roots as a community and we promote the racial inequality among minorities, and forget what we’re all fighting against.
Amy Koo hopes Asian Americans realize solidarity in the wake of the charges against NYPD officer Peter Liang.