After a weeklong trial, a jury Thursday found an Asian-American police officer guilty in the November 2014 shooting death of an unarmed black man in New York City. But the conviction of New York police Officer Peter Liang for second-degree manslaughter of Akai Gurley in a darkened public housing stairwell draws a stark contrast to the prosecution of white police officers involved in the deaths of men of color around the country.
— Andrew Siff (@andrewsiff4NY) February 12, 2016
Many of those officers never stood trial at all, despite evidence suggesting wrongdoing and misconduct. The lack of indictments of white officers who used lethal force in communities of color over the last couple of years – resulting in the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, among others – sparked nationwide protests and some civil unrest over the seeming lack of police accountability based on race of the officer.
In Baltimore last May, several officers of color were indicted on charges that ranged from “depraved heart” murder and official misconduct, following the April 19 death of Freddie Gray, a black man. He suffered a fatal spine injury in the back of a moving police van, most likely caused by a lack of care by his arresting officers, prosecutors said. But Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island and Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland, all white officers, have not been brought up on charges.
Still, the conviction of Liang, 28, brought some solace to Gurley’s family Thursday, the New York Times reported. Prosecutors pointed to Liang’s conduct after he fired his gun in the Louis H. Pink Houses in the Brooklyn borough of New York while patrolling on Nov. 20, 2014. Instead of immediately reporting the shooting, Liang allegedly called his police union representative to see what the shooting would mean for his law enforcement career.
Liang, who stood trial for second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other lesser charges, faces up to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charge when he is sentence in April, according to the Times. Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped Gurley’s family publicize the shooting case amid national social justice protests by the Black Lives Matter movement, noted the significance of Liang’s conviction.
“This verdict is a signal that, at least in this case, there are consequences for an officer’s actions. Namely, you will not be allowed to kill young men of our community and expect to walk away free and clear,” Sharpton said in a statement released Thursday night.