All Americans shall have the same dream

Updated: 2016-02-24 08:12

By Shen dingli(China Daily)

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All Americans shall have the same dream

Protesters hold a rally in support of former NYPD officer Peter Liang in the Brooklyn borough of New York February 20, 2016.[Photo/Agencies]

The case of Peter Liang is increasingly catching the attention of people in the United States, and beyond, especially among Chinese, Asians and African-Americans.

Peter Liang and Shaun Landau, both young cops with the New York Police Department, were on patrol in Brooklyn, New York City in November 2014, when, while inspecting an apartment building, Liang inadvertently triggered his gun when being startled by a noise in the darkened corridor. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and killed Akai Gurley, an African-American who happened to be going upstairs. This is the case that brought Liang to court.

Gurley's death is a tragedy. Liang's job was to maintain social order and the safety of the neighborhood, so as to protect innocent people like Gurley. Although his gun was triggered, it is clear he didn't intend to hurt Gurley as he could neither see nor know Gurley was approaching in the darkness. However, the jury concluded that Liang opened fire, and that cost Gurley his life.

As Liang and his colleague failed in their duty to protect, it was necessary for them to experience proper juridical scrutiny to prove either their innocence or otherwise. Objectively, this case may involve a number of stakeholders and their responsibilities. First, the local government and utility companies failed to make sure that the lighting in those apartment buildings worked properly. If the lighting had worked as it should, Liang and his colleague, as well as all residents in the building would have been in a far safer situation, and the police officers would not have misjudged Gurley's presence. Second, given the short experience of Liang and his colleague, the NYPD should better train their teams before sending them to such precarious environments.

The inexperienced Liang was not impeccable in doing his job. Especially after finding that Gurley had been shot, Liang and his colleague didn't take immediate action to try and help him. Consequently, Liang is now in a vulnerable position.

Nevertheless, Liang's case contrasts markedly with numerous past cases of US police shootings. There are frequent reports of US cops intentionally shooting people in the name of maintaining social order. In most of these incidents, the police are usually white and the victims non-white. Thus far most of the courts in charge of the judicial process of judging the righteousness of police shootings have protected the police in the name of "legitimate self-defense". However, public perceptions of the shootings have often been the opposite, for instance, in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. The repeated occurrence of similar cases in which white police officers have killed African-Americans has time and again triggered uproar. But the police officers concerned have rarely been convicted even of manslaughter.

Liang's case significantly differs from others. Primarily, he didn't intend to shoot Gurley, while in previous cases the white cops intentionally shot their victims. Also, Liang fired his gun unintentionally in the dark. Since those cops who fired deliberately were not convicted of manslaughter and judged innocent, to rule that Liang was guilty on five counts including manslaughter is stunningly unfair. One can only conclude that Liang has been made a scapegoat to appease the public.

The US preaches equality and fairness around the world. However, the country is still deeply plagued by internal inequality and unfairness. All people should be treated fairly, not just African-Americans but also other non-white ethnic groups. All Americans should have the same dream, which is equality regardless of race and color. In this regard, Liang should be measured by the same yardstick.

The author is a professor at and associate dean of the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University.