The Peter Liang Case – A Potential Horror for Democrats and Immigration Reform


The consequences of the NYPD officer Peter Liang conviction for having his service revolver go off in a dangerous housing project’s dark stairwell at night in one of the most crime-ridden parts of Brooklyn, East New York,1 and killing a Black man, Akai Gurley, off the bullet’s wall ricochet striking him one level down as he stepped into the stairwell has the nightmare possibility of undoing part of the Democratic coalition which has produced victories in the last two presidential campaigns. Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians played a large part in President Obama's two successful runs for the White House, but most persons of Chinese ancestry across the nation, the largest group of Asians, now feel abandoned by the Democrats - that Officer Liang was unfairly prosecuted and scapegoated to show that the justice system was fair to Blacks. The circumstances as they appear to Asian communities are of a rookie American-Chinese police officer being ordered to perform vertical patrols in a dangerous housing project (which police officers with more time in service avoid);2 an over-zealous prosecutor willing to lie to obtain the conviction; and an Asian-American judge afraid of being accused of favoritism and not granting a mistrial when the prosecutor for the first time in closing statements and without evidence proclaimed to the jury that Peter Liang had seen and intentionally pointed his gun in the direction of the man who was killed. The statement was designed to inflame the jury and suggest that there was evidence that the prosecutor for some reason was not allowed to present.

It has been suggested that the Chinese-American communities are divided over the question of support for Officer Liang. This writer posits that from what he has seen and heard over the past months, there is overwhelming support for Peter Liang among the communities, and this would be proven if polls were taken on the subject.

The problem for the Democrats is the perception that they care less about the concerns of Asians than they do about those of Blacks, and that Asians are only regarded as the most junior partner in the Democratic coalition. In 2012, the percentage of Asian- American voting rose to 3% of the vote total. Exit polls showed that 73% of Asian- Americans voted for President Obama. Chinese-Americans in one exit poll voted 81% for the President. The Peter Liang case happened in a Democratic city with the Obama Administration pushing hard for the theme “Black lives matter”, Black activists calling for conviction, and New York’s Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio stating that the jury had spoken, and "we respect its decision." Unfortunately for him and the Democrats, the bulk of the Chinese-American population does not respect the decision. They care very much about immigration reform along with other issues such as affirmative action, health insurance, and gun control, and realize that only the Democrats will deliver a candidate who is willing to fight for it. However, they refuse to be seen as second or third class citizens whose members – even those as respected as police officers – can be railroaded in the justice system. They see it as a race inspired prosecution spurred on by black activists where there was a very tragic accident resulting in the death of a man, Akai Gurley, but only an accident. They see Peter Liang as a sacrificial lamb standing in place of the untouchable white officers in the more compelling Eric Garner case complete with video of him being jumped on by 4 cops, put in an illegal chokehold, held face down to the ground and handcuffed behind even after complaining that he could not breathe. They see Peter Liang being convicted for manslaughter because he did not offer assistance and wonder what he could have done differently– Akai Gurley's girlfriend was already giving CPR. In Peter Liang's shocked state of mind and being wracked with guilt, should he have told her to step aside so that he could take over when he wasn’t even sure that he could do better? And shouldn't his partner have been the one to offer assistance since he apparently had a clearer state of mind? They see him being called a killer for a technical violation – disobeying police regulations on when to take out his gun, but think why wouldn't a scared rookie policeman do it in such a dark dangerous place in an area of the city that most wouldn't go to at night without a bodyguard?3 They wonder what was the big deal about the amount of pressure required for the gun to go off since police officers under stress have been known to empty their entire gun without realizing it, and Peter Liang was opening a metal door with one hand while flinching on hearing a sound resulting in his pulling the trigger. They ask why there were no Asian-Americans on the jury to give Officer Liang a trial by his peers – from all accounts, the jury makeup was eight whites, three Latinos, and one black. And they wonder why the black community which has seen much injustice would be so satisfied to see a member of another minority be railroaded into a conviction.

An object lesson for the Democrats is the recent 2014 midterm elections in which President Obama gave the perception of inattention to Hispanic concerns and refused to announce his executive actions on immigration until after the elections. Such inaction produced less than enthusiastic campaign work and voting from Hispanics, and contributed greatly to a massive loss not only in House elections, but loss of control of the Senate to the Republicans.

The Peter Liang case is not one that will soon be forgotten by Chinese-Americans, especially with the presidential elections coming up so quickly this year. Asians now make up 6% of the US population, are projected by Pew research analysis to become the largest immigrant group by 2055 and to make up 38% of the foreign-born population in 2065. They are no longer all clustered in Democratic friendly states like Hawaii, California and New York. A forecast of possible presidential battleground states included Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – states in which Asians comprise 3% or more of the population. Politicians will find that the Liang case will not be swept under the carpet and business return to usual for the Democratic coalition. Further inflammation to the communities will occur if he is made to serve significant time when he is sentenced on April 14th. For what message would that send to anyone who is Asian-American? Peter Liang is not a brute or a thug or even a person who would ever again be arrested for a crime in his lifetime. He is the son of immigrants and strove to make life better for his family and those around them in the city as a respected policeman. He has already suffered enough through being disgraced and marked as a felon for life. Could he even be confined safely as a former policeman tagged with the headlines of unjustly killing a black man? The killing was a great tragedy as it took an innocent man's life, but it was still only that, an accident. Democratic campaign workers may soon understand the depth of Asian dismay and anger when they attempt to rally support for their candidates. Surveys have shown that Asian-American voters are up for grabs; that Chinese-Americans are one of 2 groups least likely to identify with either party; and that they vote for candidates who support and promote progress on issues that matter most to their families and communities. In a highly ironic intertwining, the date of the accidental shooting was the same day as the President's executive orders on immigration, November 20, 2014. By that date, the Administration was months too late in acting. Hopefully it is not too late to dial down the rhetoric before the date of sentencing and stop demanding Peter Liang’s head on a pike. Otherwise Democratic candidates that come looking for Asian-American votes, especially those in the Chinese-American communities, may be addressing the issue of Peter Liang in town hall meetings, rallies and in every meeting with local leaders.

1. How dangerous are East New York and the housing project, the Louis H Pink Houses, in which the tragedy occurred? In 2011, the 75th precinct in East New York led the city in the 4 most violent crimes – murders, rapes, robberies and felony assaults. In 2015, it had the highest rate of homicides in the city. In the Internet article, “Putting Police and Public Housing on Trial: Inside the Case of NYPD Officer Peter Liang,” AlterNet, 1/27/16, an Internet message board posting by a resident of the housing development stated, “The Pink Houses, in my opinion, is one of the worst managed housing projects to live in… When I moved in I received an entry door key and have not used it once… The reason you don’t need a key is because all the entry door locks are broken and kept widely open for violators and trespassers.”

2. The NYPD has a tradition of throwing fresh-faced rookie cops right into the fire by pairing them with each other, not with senior officers, and making them perform vertical patrols in crime-ridden housing projects as soon as they graduate from the police academy. The NYPD has been aware of the problem of pairing rookies in this situation, and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton even identified the practice as a ticking time bomb before the Akai Gurley tragedy. However, the process of reversing and unraveling the program has admittedly been slow.

3. More common cases involving manslaughter charges that the public understands and accepts are the recent New York City cases of the unlicensed teenage driver, Franklin Reyes Jr., who was fleeing the police when he ran down a 4-year-old girl, and the owners, plumber, and general contractor who allegedly rigged up a leaky illegal gas delivery system to avoid paying for gas causing a massive explosion in the East Village last year killing 2 people and leveling 3 buildings.

This article © 2016 Alan Lee, Esq. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Alan Lee, Esq. Alan Lee, Esq. the author is an exclusive practitioner of immigration law based in New York City with an AV preeminent rating in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory for 20+ years, registered in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, on the New York Super Lawyers list (2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-2015), and recognized as a New York Area Top Rated Lawyer. He has written extensively on immigration over the past years for Interpreter Releases, Immigration Daily, and the ethnic newspapers, World Journal, Sing Tao, Epoch Times, Pakistan Calling, Muhasba and OCS; testified as an expert on immigration in civil court proceedings; and is a regular contributor to Martindale-Hubbell's Ask-a-Lawyer program. His article, "The Bush Temporary Worker Proposal and Comparative Pending Legislation: an Analysis" was Interpreter Releases' cover display article at the American Immigration Lawyers Association annual conference in 2004; his 2004 case in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Firstland International v. INS, successfully challenged Legacy INS' policy of over 40 years of revoking approved immigrant visa petitions under a nebulous standard of proof, although its central holding that the government had to notify approved immigrant petition holders of the revocation prior to the their departure to the U. S. for the petition to be able to be revoked was short-lived as it was specifically targeted in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 (which in response changed the language of the revocation statute itself). Yet Firstland lives on as precedent that the government must comply with nondiscretionary duties established in law, and such failure is reviewable in federal courts. His 2015 case, Matter of Leacheng International, Inc., with the Administrative Appeals Office of USCIS (AAO) set nation-wide standards on the definition of "doing business" for multinational executives and managers to gain immigration benefits.

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