The following is a statement by Seattle Black Book Club and Pacific Rim Solidarity Network (PARISOL):
In 2014, Chinese American police officer, Peter Liang was conducting NYPD’s infamous vertical patrols in the Pink Houses projects in New York. During his patrol, Liang fired a bullet that killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley—an unarmed Black man and father of two. On February 20, 2016, the Chinese/Chinese American community across 40 cities in the United States protested the manslaughter charge Liang received.
The Seattle Chinese Alliance for Equality organized a rally attended by about 300 Chinese/Chinese Americans. They came to expose what they believed was an injustice regarding Peter Liang’s conviction. They contrasted Liang’s conviction to the acquittal of white police officers who were responsible for the death of Eric Garner. But the Chinese/Chinese Americans who showed up were not fighting for ALL police officers to be charged for murdering civilians. They were fighting for charges to be dropped against Liang. In other words, that he be given the white privilege to kill Black people without legal consequences. In very blatant ways, this demand reinforces the existing white supremacist racist hierarchy in the United States. Chinese Americans want to be treated like whites, and at the expense of Black lives.
Among us, are first generation Chinese immigrants as well as Chinese Americans whose families have lived for generations in this country. We support the #BlackLivesMatter movement as an attack on a white supremacist and capitalist system that can open the way for a future that liberates us all. We are acutely aware that white supremacy in this country attempts to place Asians, and especially Chinese Americans, in a model minority role. This role blames other communities of color, especially Black communities for their inability to achieve the American Dream. It invisibilizes the ongoing reality of anti-Black violence that is the foundation of this country. On the surface, the model minority role appears to uphold Chinese communities. In reality, it only upholds those among us that assimilate into this culture. It also makes invisible the reality that many working class Chinese immigrants, Chinese Americans, and other Asian/Asian Americans face. This includes exploitation, racism and other various oppressions under this system.
The organizers of the rally are right to point out the differential treatment that Liang received in contrast to other white NYPD officers who murder Black people on duty. In reality, this differential racialized sentencing for similar offenses is the reality of many Black and Brown bodies who interact with the criminal justice system. Black and Brown people are disproportionately sentenced for crimes that white people are not arrested for. The Illusion of American society causes us to think that we—as Chinese Americans will receive equal treatment in court. Especially if we assimilate to become “respectable” and “All-American.”
Peter Liang assimilated by joining one of the cornerstones of American society, the police department. But, a thorough understanding of the history of grass-root struggles teaches us that this was not a viable option to begin with. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that the Chinese community is willing to rise up against racialized sentencing, only in defense of an NYPD officer. When in reality we have community members who are poor, working class, and non-English speaking, whom often face racial differential treatment. This is especially true when they interact with the state and the criminal justice system. The struggles that are highlighted by the Chinese/Chinese American community are determined by the respectability politics of the model minority myth. This is disastrous.
The Chinese/Chinese American community talks about this incident as a tragedy. They state that Peter Liang did not intentionally try to kill Akai Gurley. That his bullet, allegedly fired in alarm, had bounced off the wall and killed Gurley by accident. Yet, the true horror of this situation is that a police officer who felt startled, is able to pull out a gun and cause a man’s death. Peter Liang may have been acting out of fear, but he had power as an NYPD officer on duty, to take a man’s life. He encountered Gurley while conducting vertical patrols that surveil Black and Brown bodies in their homes. An NYPD practice that is widely known to be a racist.
This is why we should oppose gun-toting and racist police activity that disproportionately threaten and kill Black lives. Assimilation into violent institutions like the police department is not a viable option for immigrants. We cannot understand Akai Gurley’s murder in isolation from the deaths of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, among other unarmed Black people killed by police. This systematic denunciation of what is seen as daily, regular police activity (such as vertical patrol, or stop and frisk), highlights instead it’s brutal anti-Black violence. This has been a resounding message of #BlackLivesMatter movement. The Chinese/Chinese American community must understand the Peter Liang situation within this context.
The Seattle Black Book Club and Pacific Rim Solidarity Network (PARISOL) stand in solidarity with Akai Gurley’s family in a declaration that ALL Black Lives matter. In painting Peter Liang as a victim, the February 20 rally organizers erase the pain and loss that Akai Gurley is family faces. Attempts by the organizers of the February 20 rally to express condolences for the Gurley family feel empty and opportunistic. As do their signs that quote Martin Luther King “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We see how “Justice for Peter Liang” does not demand justice, but privilege. That is, the white privilege to kill unarmed Black people with no legal proceedings. Chinese/Chinese Americans among us know that this uncritical acceptance of white supremacist messaging and assimilationist practices is partly a result of our communities’ language barriers. It is partly the result of the institutionalization of white supremacist American history that citizenship tests reproduce. And as well as the domination of our communities by middle and upper class Chinese/Chinese American leaders.
On February 20, members of Seattle Black Book Club and PARISOL partnered up in opposition to the rally supporting Liang in Seattle. Upon connecting with their organizers, we attempted to foster a space for cross dialogue. However, our messaging was censored. We were told we could not say the words “Peter Liang is a killer.” We were blocked from having any messaging that would seem “hostile” towards Liang. There can be no real dialogue in censorship.
In an intense yet powerful move, we struggled through the crowd and disrupted the rally by taking center stage, immediately disallowing the continuation of the organizers’ schedule. Though many organizers jumped on stage to prevent us, what resulted were members of our action speaking out on the anti-Blackness of the event and against support for Liang.
Fact sheets were handed to supporters of Liang and a discussion with the rally organizers resulted in an agreement for a space for continued dialogue between #BlackLivesMatter activists with the Chinese/Chinese American community.
The Seattle Black Book Club recognizes the shared oppression under white supremacy with Chinese communities. We see how both communities are treated differently from white populations. PARISOL is also committed to working within our Chinese/Chinese American communities to resist the normality of anti-Blackness. Each of our communities have legacies of resistance against oppression and inter-ethnic solidarity that we wish to continue. For many immigrant communities, we have learned that assimilation to white culture and its violent institutions is a way for us to survive in our new homes, as we leave our homelands. However, this is an elite opportunistic strategy that is non-viable for the majority of us. It isolates us from other communities of color and other working class people. We can and must imagine alternative ways to survive and thrive. Solidarity with Black communities is crucial for this.
The Chinese translation of this statement can be viewed here: http://www.groundbreaking.hk/wordpress/?p=1516