Peter Liang (c. 1987- ) was the New York City police officer who shot dead Akai Gurley in a dark stairwell in Brooklyn on November 20th 2014. Gurley was Black and unarmed, father of three. Liang is Asian American, a police officer with only 18 months’ experience.
On February 11th 2016, Liang was found guilty of manslaughter – and fired. Shaun Landau, his (White) partner, got off by turning state’s witness.
From 1999 to 2015, the NYPD killed at least 188 people. In only four cases – Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zongo, Sean Bell and Akai Gurley – was anyone charged with a crime. In only two cases – Zongo and Gurley – were they found guilty. No one, so far, has served a single day in prison. Zongo’s killer, a White officer named Bryan Conroy, got five years’ probation.
Liang will be sentenced on April 14th. He could get 0 to 15 years in prison.
Most public prosecutors in the US are White. They commonly win elections by being “tough on crime” by locking up Black and Brown men, many of them innocent. To do this they need the help of the police and therefore turn a blind eye to police killings. In Brooklyn, though, the public prosecutor, Ken Thompson, is Black. He believes in restoring justice by restoring trust in the police and the courts – much like Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore.
On November 20th 2014, Liang and Landau, both inexperienced officers, were inside the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn, going floor to floor. It had been the scene of two homicides in the past year.
When they entered the dark stairwell on the eighth floor, Landau took out his flashlight, while Liang took out both his flashlight and his gun.
Police policy in a case like that is to only pull out your gun if there is a known threat, because otherwise innocent people wind up getting killed, like Timothy Stansbury in 2004.
Liang took out his gun anyway – because of he was afraid, as he would later tearfully tell the court. His finger was on the trigger. Gurley and his girlfriend enter the stairwell on the seventh floor. Liang, surprised by the sound, shoots into the dark, hitting Gurley in the chest.
Gurley’s girlfriend was screaming. “He’s not breathing!” She was knocking on doors, crying, her hands in blood, asking for help, asking for towels – there was so much blood. She performed CPR wanting to save Gurley’s life.
Liang and Landau, meanwhile, were arguing about who should call. Liang called – the police union. He was afraid of getting fired. Then he called his commanding officer, telling him about his gun going off, but not about Gurley.
His commanding officer knew of the shooting because a neighbour had called 911, but he did not know that the shooter was Liang. He had been trying to reach Liang and Landau, knowing that they were nearby.
Four minutes have now passed. Unlike Gurley’s girlfriend, they are trained in CPR. They go to him – and walk round him to go to the fourth floor.
– Abagond, 2016.
Update (March 30th): Sentencing is next month. There have been nationwide protests in favour of Liang. The judge, Danny Chun, is Korean American. Liang could get up to 15 years. Ken Thompson, though, is now saying Liang should get NO prison time! Thompson might be getting heat from the police union. More.
Update (April 19th): Liang was sentenced to five years probation: no prison time. Moments before sentencing, Judge Chun reduced the charge from manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide. More.
- Michael Wood – on fearful, non-empathetic police officers
- Other police officers who do not belong to the White club:
- The extremely incomplete list of unarmed Blacks killed by police
- Black Brute stereotype
- Whites who fear blacks are racist
- Marilyn Mosby – *swoon*