Akai Gurley (right) was shot and killed by rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang (left) on Nov. 20, 2014. (AP and Facebook Photos)
An Asian-American labor group opposed the no jail time sentence of a Chinese-American NYPD officer who was convicted of the 2014 shooting death of a unarmed Black man in a housing project stairwell.
Despite the racial identity of the officer, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), a nonprofit affiliated with the AFL-CIO, said he should face the same consequences as any member of the public convicted of his crimes, despite being part of the community which the organization serves.
On Nov. 20, 2014, Akai Gurley was shot and killed by rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang while walking down the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project with his girlfriend. Liang and his partner were patrolling the building with their guns drawn when Liang “was startled by a loud noise” and discharged his weapon. The bullet ricocheted off of the stairwell wall and struck Gurley, who was on a different floor than the officers. Gurley, who was unarmed, died from a wound to his chest.
Liang was convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct on Feb. 11, and was subsequently fired from the NYPD. The Brooklyn prosecutor requested that Liang receive no jail time as he was no threat to the public. On Tuesday, Brooklyn judge Danny Chun ordered Liang to serve five years’ probation and complete 800 hours of community service, saying the Chinese American cop never intended to shoot, let alone kill, Gurley.
Liang’s conviction in February drew protests from supporters who claimed the officer was being “scapegoated” because of his race. However, the APALA said Liang’s status as an officer should not have weighed in his sentencing.
“APALA believes Akai Gurley’s life mattered and that Liang should have served jail time like any average civilian who is convicted of the same crime,” Gregory Cendana, APALA’s Executive Director, said in a statement. “We want to reiterate our support for Akai’s family, especially in this difficult time, and recommit ourselves to demanding justice for Akai Gurley and the many other lives lost to state violence. APALA stands firmly in our belief that #BlackLivesMatter and will continue to fight the mass criminalization of all people of color.”
The comments reiterate a stance Cendana and the group took at Liang’s February conviction. In a statement at the time, Cendana pointed out incidents of police violence against members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and said his organization’s position in the Liang case was consistent with its statements calling for strong action against police offenders in those other incidents.
“No matter the identity of an officer, we believe we must hold all cops accountable for their actions, especially when innocent lives are lost,” Cendana wrote.