Ex-NYPD Officer Gets Probation In Fatal Shooting Of Unarmed Man

Apr 20, 2016
Originally published on April 20, 2016 9:33 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Yet another case of a police officer killing and unarmed African-American man has taken an unexpected turn. In February, former New York City Police Officer Peter Liang was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Akai Gurley. When court convened yesterday, the judge first reduced Liang's manslaughter conviction to a lesser charge and then sentenced him to probation. Here's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Spectators inside the Brooklyn courthouse were shocked. And outside, family members mourned again for Akai Gurley, the 28-year-old African-American man who was shot and killed while walking down a stairwell in a public housing project.

HERTENCIA PETERSEN: Another black man has been murdered by the hands of a police department. And the officer is not being held accountable.

LO WANG: Gurley's aunt, Hertencia Petersen.

PETERSEN: We're going to continue to march so we get justice. We're going to continue until all black lives matter.

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: That's right.

PAUL SHECHTMAN: I understand the anger. If you look at what's happened in this country in the last two years, anger is warranted.

LO WANG: That's Paul Shechtman, one of Peter Liang's attorneys. Shechtman said his client's case is unique. Liang fired a gun in a dark stairwell during a patrol. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and pierced Gurley's heart. That, Shechtman argued, should not be equated with other recent shooting deaths of unarmed black men by police.

SHECHTMAN: Peter Liang is not them. This was not the intentional violation of someone's rights.

LO WANG: The trial judge, Danny Chun, agreed. He reduced Liang's manslaughter charge to criminally negligent homicide, sentenced him to five years probation and 800 hours of community service. Prosecutors say they will appeal of the reduced conviction. Liang's attorneys are appealing too. Liang, who is Chinese-American, is among the few police officers to be indicted, let alone convicted, in a shooting case. Many Asian-American supporters, like Jerry Lo, see Liang as a scapegoat.

JERRY LO: (Speaking Mandarin).

LO WANG: "We Chinese, now that we've come here, we are also Americans," Lo said in Mandarin. 'We should receive equal treatment." He was outside the courthouse in a group of mainly Chinese-American supporters of Liang. Across the street, there was a racially mixed group of Gurley supporters, including high school student Xuan Wang.

XUAN WANG: We as, especially East Asian-Americans, we have to acknowledge the anti-blackness within our own communities.

LO WANG: Wang said Liang supporters should not see him as a victim and instead should rally around the Gurley family. Shirley Belton, who is black, also stood with the Gurley supporters. She said she's noticed a lot of Asian-Americans blacking Liang. And said she wished there were more standing with her.

SHIRLEY BELTON: It's so wrong that the Asians are not willing to come out for everybody like they did for him. I mean, there are so many people who have gotten killed.

LO WANG: There was a large police presence outside the courthouse, where the two groups were kept on opposite sides of the street by crowd barriers. Racial tensions have been part of the debate about this case. You could hear that in this argument between two passers-by, Agnes Johnson and Shaquana Alcindor, both African-American.

AGNES JOHNSON: Do not shop in another Asian store.

SHAQUANA ALCINDOR: I love my Chinese food, miss.

JOHNSON: Give it up for Akai.

ALCINDOR: That don't got nothing to do with all Chinese.

JOHNSON: Hello, it's about showing your power.

LO WANG: That exchange took place right next to the group of Liang supporters. Wu Yiping helped to organize them.

WU YIPING: (Speaking Mandarin).

LO WANG: "Going forward," he said, "the African-American and Chinese-American communities need to communicate and better understand each other." Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.