One Police Plaza

Peter Liang Trial: Color-Blind Justice?

January 18, 2016

When rookie NYPD Officer Peter Liang goes on trial on manslaughter charges Tuesday, many will ask whether he is a killer or a victim of a racially cockeyed New York City.

The answer may depend on race.

Liang, who is of Chinese descent, was patrolling a dark stairwell in a housing complex in East New York with his weapon drawn in November 2014 — a potentially dangerous but accepted practice in the NYPD when patrolling high-crime housing projects — when his gun apparently went off. The shot ricocheted and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed African-American man.

The racial aspect of Liang’s case can best be viewed through the prism of the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in 2014. After a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, many New Yorkers saw the case as yet another example of racial discrimination and the lack of police accountability — of a white cop getting away with killing another unarmed black man.

Reflecting the anger of African-Americans, Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said at the time, “The only way we will be satisfied is if the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner will be convicted and sent upstate.”

Many Asian-Americans see Liang’s indictment as racial discrimination, too. “A lot of these cases, they never indict the cop. A white cop was not indicted for killing Eric Garner,” said Eddie Chiu, whose Lin Sing Association has raised $33,000 for Liang’s defense. “People feel it [Liang’s indictment] is unfair to Peter and to the Chinese.”

Chiu added: “People from all over have sent small donations in cash for Peter’s legal fund. In December alone, we raised $10,000. In my 40 years in Chinatown, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Indeed, in 2004, Richard Neri, a white cop, was patrolling the rooftop of another Brooklyn housing project with his gun drawn. He fatally shot Timothy Stansbury, a black teenager. A grand jury declined to indict Neri, concluding the shooting was accidental.

While Liang and his partner were patrolling the darkened stairwell of the Pink Houses, Liang opened the stairwell door and accidentally fired, the bullet striking a wall before striking Gurley in the heart.

Kenneth Thompson, Brooklyn’s first African-American district attorney, indicted Liang. At the officer’s arraignment, Thompson said he didn’t believe Liang intended to kill Gurley. “What the evidence showed is that this police officer put his finger on the trigger and fired that gun into a darkened stairwell when there was no threat.”

Complicating the racial outlook, the judge presiding over the Liang case will be Denny Chun, a Korean-American. He’ll be under tremendous pressure from all sides.

However the trial plays out, Liang is a goner at the NYPD. Not realizing he’d shot anyone and afraid he’d be fired for improperly firing his weapon, neither he nor his partner ran or radioed for help for four minutes after the shooting. Those four minutes could doom him — both at his criminal trial and at the NYPD, where as a rookie he can be fired summarily.

THE FADE OUT. Over at Barnes and Noble in Manhasset L.I., former police commissioner Ray Kelly’s book, “Vigilance” with its modest subtitle: “My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City” is now on sale for half price. That’s an indication the book is fading.

As is Kelly. His last month’s broadside, charging the department with deflating shooting statistics to make the city appear safer than it actually is produced a retort from police commissioner Bill Bratton to be “a big man” [a dig at Kelly’s sensitivity about his stature] and to name his sources or shut his yap. Kelly hasn’t opened it since.

Meanwhile, the 74-year-old Kelly was seen at the funeral of the state’s former top judge, Judith Kaye, “walking with a wobble,” as one person put it. “He wasn’t unsteady,” said this person. “But when you get older, you don’t walk as straight.”

Still, don’t count out the longest serving police commissioner in the city’s history. Gov. Cuomo hasn’t. In his state-of-the-state address last week, Cuomo stated that he had called on Kelly “to tell us the best way to defend ourselves and the state’s counter-terrorism operations.” Kelly recommended moving the state’s counterterrorism operations to the jurisdiction of the state police to improve intelligence sharing and reduce response time.

The Post’s Bob McManus, as usual, got it wrong, writing that Cuomo had accepted Kelly’s proposal “to relieve the city of substantial responsibility for combating terrorism.”

Such nonsense caused consternation within the NYPD’s Public Information office, which has apparently not yet learned that anything you read in the Post should be confirmed elsewhere.

Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt