When I first see a picture of Peter Liang, the NYPD officer recently indicted for the shooting death of Akai Gurley, my reactions are all over the map.
… He looks so familiar. He’s 27; he could be one of my brother’s friends. One of my friends, even. He could be a family friend or someone from my church.
… His parents — probably immigrants like mine. Later, I learn that they’re a cook and a garment worker who moved with their son from Hong Kong to the US when he was a child, who speak very little English. They live in Bensonhurst, a working-class neighborhood that’s become Brooklyn’s second Chinatown.
They must be so sad.
… He’s a police officer. I’ve never known an Asian American cop. I’ve seen a few in California, where Asian Americans have lived for generations and have had more time to get involved in civic life — politics, law enforcement — than in most other parts of the country. But I’ve never seen them elsewhere. I wonder about his experience on the force, his decision to enter a field where few of his kind have preceded him.
… He looks so young. He had been a cop for less than 2 years. He’s probably scared out of his mind.
… He should have known better. The NYPD trains its officers not to put their finger on the trigger of a gun unless they’re being threatened and ready to shoot. So why was his finger on the trigger? Why, when he heard someone — anyone — approaching, was his first instinct to shoot? Didn’t he know that he was trusted to protect a community, and by firing a literal shot in the dark, he was doing the opposite? Didn’t he know what the consequences could be? It was late November, when the grand jury verdict on Darren Wilson was imminent and all eyes were on Ferguson — and a grand jury in New York was hearing evidence regarding Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner. As a cop, surely he knew about these events, knew that tensions were high between police officers and the communities they served, knew that police were under heightened scrutiny. In those uneasy days, of all times, why did he decide to shoot?
And then why was his next response to panic? To not call in the shooting, to not call for medical help, nothing? To articulate a fear about his job instead of concern for the person he had just wounded? What was he thinking? If his responses to stress are impulsivity and panic, is this really the line of work he should have chosen?
… This is not going to help black-Asian relations in the US, which can already be contentious.
My feelings toward Peter Liang are complicated. So, too, is the landscape around his indictment.