Peter Liang Deserves Prison, But So Do Negligent NYPD Brass

Former NYPD Officer Peter Liang, moments after being convicted for the negligent homicide death of Akai Gurley.
Former NYPD Officer Peter Liang, moments after being convicted for the negligent homicide death of Akai Gurley.

Up to 100,000 people took part in protests Saturday over the conviction of NYPD rookie Peter Liang for the negligent discharge death of Akai Gurley. Liang and his partner were on a vertical patrol on November 20, 2014, in a darkened apartment building stairwell. Liang, who is left-handed, had his department-issue Glock 19 9mm pistol in his hand as he attempted to open a stairwell door with his right hand.

When he encountered more resistance that he expected with his right hand, he clinched down harder. As a result of parasympathetic response, when he tightened his grip with his right hand, his left hand tensed as well and he fired a shot. The shot ricocheted down the stairwell and struck Akai Gurley, who had just entered the stairwell on a lower floor, fatally wounding him.

The protesters think that both men are victims, and that Liang has been scapegoated.

…Liang’s supporters — many of them, like him, Chinese-American — believe the officer was singled out for prosecution.

“We believe that Mr. Liang has been sacrificed as a scapegoat in a highly politicized criminal justice system, resulting from recent intensifying police-community relations,” coalition spokesman Jack Ouyang said in a statement.

In a plaza near the Brooklyn courthouse where Liang was convicted, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Saturday.

Scores turned out Saturday afternoon outside in Atlanta as well. Many held small American flags as they packed about 100 yards of sidewalk, several people deep, outside CNN’s headquarters.

In San Francisco, protester Amy Matecki said, “Peter Liang’s incident brought the Chinese community together. We want to speak up. One voice, united together. Life matters, justice for all. No scapegoat.”

“He was singled out as a victim for some political reasons,” said Min Yan, a physician in Oakland.

During closing arguments at Liang’s trial, the officer’s lawyer called the fatal shooting tragic but not a crime, stressing that Liang followed procedures. Police had described Gurley was “a total innocent.”

“What happened here is a tragedy,” defense attorney Rae Koshetz said. “It’s a terrible tragedy, but it’s not a crime.”

I hate to break it to the Chinese-American community and to supporters of police everywhere, that isn’t true. Liang’s killing of another human being due to gross negligence is indeed the crime of negligent homicide. The real question is whether Liang alone should be held accountable for Gurley’s death, and in my opinion, the answer to that question is a resounding, “no.”

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The New York City Police Department may be “New York’s Finest,” but in terms of their firearms training and individual officer skills with firearms, they lag behind most of the nation. NYPD officers are so prone to touching off negligent rounds that Department brass had Glock (which dominates the law enforcement handgun market) create extra-heavy trigger springs to make the guns more difficult to fire by officers who have their fingers on the trigger of their guns when they aren’t supposed to be there.

Glock was asked to create the N.Y.1 and N.Y. 2 triggers to make Glock pistols more difficult to fire for poorly trained police officers.

Other manufacturers who sell guns to the NYPD for on and off-duty use are similarly required to have heavy trigger pulls.  No doubt driven by budget concerns, NYPD brass apparently decided was easier to install a cheap part and blame undertrained officers for negligent discharges than it was to train officers to the point of competency with their firearms.

It is this mindset from NYPD brass that set Peter Liang up for failure, and which ensures there will be many more future Akai Gurleys dying, and more Peter Liangs going to prison.

Unfortunately, the only thing that will correct the larger problem is a massive change in the way citizens in the New York City metropolitan area view firearms.

“Gun culture” is viewed with rabid and obvious contempt by the New York media—you need look no further than the borderline insanity of the Daily News or the pompous ignorance of the Times—and that trait is echoed by the city’s politicians and the public at large. This irrational hatred of firearms has led to laws that have almost completely stomped out a legal gun culture in the Big Apple,  and has left an applicant pool for area police academies that knows nothing about firearms.

Unfortunately, these new cops learn very little about firearms when they are in the academy system, and the minimal introduction they are provided isn’t accompanied by regular training once they join the force.

Until New Yorkers give up their rabid and irrational hatred of firearms, they’ll continue to send gun-ignorant candidates to police academies, the officers won’t get competent training and “accidents” that are really the result of failed culture will continue.

Apr 16, 2021 10:30 AM ET