For expansions on the analyses you see here and more, please read: “Complicating Our Complicity: Interrogating Anti-Blackness & Settler Colonial Power in the Murder of Akai Gurley” by Kat Yang-Stevens with contributions from Alex-Quan Pham. Also please read, "The Protests For Ex-Officer Peter Liang Are Anti-Black Racism" by jenn m. jackson of the black youth project.


Authors Note: 
This piece contains original analysis from kat yang-stevens and may be sourced as:
                                                                                         yang-stevens, kat, “Reframing the Conversation” [2016]                                                                                             Do not plagiarize this work. If you want to write something influenced by this piece, please cite it. 

THIS WORK IS LICENSED UNDER A CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTION-NONCOMMERCIAL-NODERIVATIVES 4.0 INTERNATIONAL LICENSE. DO NOT REPUBLISH OR REPRINT IN PART OR IN WHOLE WITHOUT CONSENT.


As someone who never graduated from high school and who has direct experience of being brutalized and assaulted by police on multiple occasions –for the first time as 17 year old– as well as been targeted and harassed by state and federal policing bodies; I ask that Asian American & Canadian academics, activists, and progressives respect my experiences and voice by amplifying this piece. 
I have not been paid or compensated for the labor of synthesizing and conveying the knowledge produced in either this piece or, “Complicating Our Complicity: Interrogating Anti-Blackness & Settler Colonial Power in the Murder of Akai Gurley”. Asian people who have benefited from this labor and who have the means to do so, please send solidarity funds to Paypal: katyang.resist@gmail.com
We are currently fundraising money to have this piece translated into Pinyin and other languages. If you would like to donate or contribute a translation, please email katyang.resist@gmail.com. 


5 Claims from Peter Liang’s Supporters That Are Misinformed & Anti-Black

by Kat Yang-Stevens with contributions from Alex-Quan Pham

 

Peter Liang’s supporters have rallied around major misunderstandings of the ways that race and racism function in the US and are perpetuating anti-Black racism, all the while claiming that they “unite Asians to fight racism”. This is unsurprising. In order to continue to maintain itself, the United States must continuously erase both the methods of its creation – settler colonialism, genocide, and African chattel slavery – while also obscuring the conditions that we currently live under by intentionally misrepresenting, exploiting, and withholding information about racial differences. Most public schools in the United States – which were originally created to teach white children – teach little to no history of the experience of Asians in America, and often when racism is engaged it is through the context of racist teaching materials and/or teachers. How can Asian people in the US understand our own oppression or the oppression of other non-white people when US schools strategically teach us not to talk about or question race?

We recognize the need to meet people where they are at and see a need for mass education within “Asian America” about the ways Asian identity impacts the ways we think about ourselves and other Asian peoples. Most especially we must work to understand and educate each other about the ways that “Asian identity” in America simultaneously impacts and is affected by the identities of other non-white groups. This piece attempts to dissect some of the arguments made by Liang’s supporters. Of course there is much work to be done to expand, clarify, and even complicate these ideas. But we offer this as a humble beginning. We hope that our peers will find this piece a helpful resource for strengthening their own understandings and that they will be able to find creative ways to take these conversations back to their families, friends, and networks.

 

Here are five claims made by Peter Liang supporters that need to be challenged & stopped immediately:

 

1

"Asian people are oppressed too! This is just white supremacy pitting Asian and Black people against each other again."

 

In the United States, Asian Americans are systemically oppressed by white supremacy, but that does not change the fact that Asian people are settlers living and often thriving on stolen Indigenous land; we can not continue to talk about white supremacy without working to understand our relationships to settler colonialism. As Asian Americans, we occupy complex and confusing positions in this country, but there can be no denying that our existence here contributes to a settler colonial dynamic in which Indigenous peoples are continuously displaced from their traditional lands and lifeways by the very presence of cities and towns we live, work, learn, and earn money in. Acknowledging this must be foundational to the way we work towards understanding just what it means to be “Asian American”. For all the cries of “justice” coming from Asians Americans who support Liang – and even those who don’t – there has been very little willingness to engage with Asian settler colonialism and ongoing occupation.

Additionally, non-Black Asian people have structural and social advantages that we are afforded at the expense of Black people, including Black Asians. To collapse the specific and different forms of violence that Black and Asian communities face under the “people of color” umbrella is fundamentally anti-Black, inaccurate, and obscures structural disparities. Frameworks that make it seem as if all non-white groups have the same social positioning can incite aggression towards Black people, create inaccurate representations of the ways race functions in the US, and undermine the potential organizing power of non-white people to form strategic alliances.

Race categories of Black and Asian are not mutually exclusive and  there are many people within our communities whose identities are both Asian and Black – Black Asians are repeatedly disrespected, marginalized, and erased within “Asian American” discourses. Non-Black Asians are able to distance themselves from Blackness and the specific violences and struggles that are enacted towards Black people. Distance from Blackness helps to secure access to resources and protections that Black people are not afforded.

Non-Black Asian Americans receive rewards from white power structures for participation in anti-Blackness. Asian Anti-Blackness manifests on a nation-wide scale through access to “positive stereotypes” that Asian Americans – especially East Asians – can use to distance themselves from Blackness. These “positive stereotypes” are coded within the model minority myth and were originally crafted by white people to justify white people's mistreatment of Black people and can also serve to demonize other groups. The model minority myth suggests that Asians are a successful and safe group of “good minorities” while other “minority” groups who are painted as having “not done as well for themselves” – especially Black people – are to blame for their own hardships and “disenfranchised” positions in US society.

Non-Black Asian Americans across the nation are not experiencing the same level of unrelenting police violence and murders as Black people are. NYC Chinatowns do not experience the same level of policing and harassment that Black New Yorkers do; nor do NYC Chinatowns experience the type of policing that is enacted in the mostly Black neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn – where Liang shot and killed Gurley. This is the violent reality of constant danger and dehumanization that Black New Yorkers are subjected to that Chinese and other Asian Americans are not subjected to in a systematic way.

How many of Peter Liang’s supporters expect to encounter men with loaded guns pointed forward in the darkened hallways of the buildings they live in with their families and children?

Yes, we too experience very real and degrading racism, but as a racialized group Asians are not equally impacted by racism in the ways that Black people or other groups are. Every racialized group in America is impacted in very different and strategic ways by white supremacy. Recognizing similarities in our struggles can be a powerful tool for building solidarity and strategic alliances with other groups. But when we try to flatten our experiences by equating them to the experiences of another group, we do a disservice to everyone involved and end up further strengthening white supremacy.

2

"PEter liang's prosecution is unjust and he should not be held responsible for past injustices of the criminal justice system. You can not undo and injustice by creating a new one."

 

When Liang supporters invoke “past injustices” what they are really saying is that Liang is being treated unfairly because white officers who’ve killed Black people – like Daniel Pantaleo who murdered Eric Garner – have not been indicted, convicted, or been otherwise made to be accountable for their lethal actions. If Liang’s supporters really cared about “lack of justice” in policing, they would be protesting alongside Black people for more accountability for all cops. Instead, we’ve seen Liang’s supporters blame #BlackLivesMatter organizing as being part of the cause of Liang’s conviction. Their reasoning follows that Black people’s calls for police accountability have led the system to prosecute Liang in an effort to pacify Black people’s resistance to the extrajudicial killings of Black people by police. Instead of placing grievances with the larger structural powers at the root of their perceived injustice, Liang’s supporters have framed the conversation in a way that positions Black people in a position of blame and responsibility.

Peter Liang is not being used to correct “past injustices”. The insinuation that Liang is only being convicted to “give Black people what they want” is incredibly anti-Black and suggests that non-Black officers of color – like Chinese officer Liang – should be as equally unaccountable as white officers for their murders of Black people. Not only is this outrageous, but it further ensures a future in which Black people will continue to be routinely brutalized and killed by police of all races with impunity.

It is both inaccurate and anti-Black to refer to systematic murder of Black people by police across America as simply a “past injustice”. The horrors and atrocities of African chattel slavery live on today in the form of aggressive targeting of Black communities by police and the “criminal justice” system. Not only are Black people being systematically murdered by police and vigilantes, Black people also make up the bulk of people imprisoned in this country and are consistently indicted more, convicted more, and made to serve longer and harsher sentences than both white and non-Black Asian peoples. This indicates that policing as an institution in America is about maintaining a white supremacist social order in which Black and Brown, and Indigenous people are continuously policed, monitored, and murdered. This is not an institution that functions in the service of “justice”.  

Policing in America has a well-documented history of beginning with the implementation of informal groups of slave masters and landowners who controlled and policed both enslaved Black people and Indigenous peoples who had been violently dispossessed from their homelands. Before policing became institutionalized, it looked like groups of white people who  called themselves Slave Patrols and terrorized Black people. Both “free” and enslaved Black people were all subjected to harassment, searches, seizures, maiming, and death regardless of whether a law had been broken and without “due process” in the courts –just as the police continue to operate across the nation today.

On the night of Gurley’s death, Liang had been patrolling the stairwell with his loaded gun unholstered and pointed forward with his flashlight engaged in something called a “vertical patrol”. Vertical patrols have the effect of creating dangerous situations and increasing violence inflicted upon residents of low-income public housing, who are already targeted with many other forms of systemic and institutionalized violence. Vertical patrols have been argued as illegal by the Columbia Law Review because they infringe upon New York state law, which is supposed to protect people in New York from unreasonable police inquiries.

Vertical patrols are just another form of surveillance and harassment intended to control Black communities. Annie Tan – the niece of Vincent Chin said – “Truly, I cannot imagine police officers conducting vertical patrols or pulling guns out in the stairwells of Chinatown apartment buildings without reasonable suspicion. I feel no danger in being shot in my own apartment complex as an Asian American.” We must realize that there are many forms of violence that are enacted against Black people in ways that we as non-Black Asians simply do not experience on a systemic level.

 

3

"it was an accident! peter liang is a scapegoat!"

 

Liang being painted as a political “pawn” and continuously claimed as a “scapegoat” by his supporters again displays a lack of education & awareness of the ways that Asian American racialized identity has been constructed.

“Scapegoat” describes a person, an event, or even an object that can be unfairly blamed for the wrongdoings of others. Liang is not being “scapegoated” for something that he didn’t do, instead he has been convicted of something he did do.

Liang was convicted of Second Degree Manslaughter, by definition this refers to “a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender's obvious lack of concern for human life.” The evidence shows that both Liang and his white partner, Shaun Landau, engaged in a series of reckless breaks in protocol that ultimately resulted in the death of Akai Gurley. Even if Peter Liang was startled and pulled the trigger accidentally it does not change the fact that he should have never had his gun out in the first place where children and families live –further it should be noted that Liang’s gun required 11.5 pounds of force to pull the trigger for the gun to fire. Despicably and inexcusably neither Liang or Landau attempted to help Akai after Liang shot him.

Kenneth Palmer – Akai Gurley’s stepfather – asked of Liang: “Why did you have your gun out in a place where families live, where children walk up and down the stairs, where they play and travel?” Vertical patrols are methods of control carried out by police and utilized to maintain a white supremacist social order in which Black people are continuously policed, monitored, and controlled through violence and murder. It was no accident that Liang found himself in that stairwell. He was there to perform a vertical patrol as a scheduled officer on duty and he chose to break protocol and walk with his gun out and pointed forward with intent.

Liang’s supporters have repeatedly asserted that he is a “scapegoat” and is only being held accountable because he is Asian. They claim that the protests and resistance from Black communities against systematic police murder are the real reason why Liang was indicted and convicted. Supporters see Liang as something of a “police martyr” or as they say, a “scapegoat”. They believe he was “sacrificed” to satiate the public’s thirst for justice against extrajudicial murders of Black people by police. Therefore, in reality it is Liang’s supporters who are unfairly creating a “scapegoat” by positioning the blame for Liang’s conviction as the fault of Black people and their resistance, instead of directing their anger and grievances to the system and state (that Liang vowed to protect when he became a police officer).

By supporting Liang Asian Americans ultimately uphold white supremacy by stoking racial tensions between Asian and Black people which diffuses and weakens potential for cross racial alliances that could threaten white supremacist state power.

The notion that non-Black officers of color – like Liang – should be as equally unaccountable as white officers for their murders of Black people is outrageous, and further ensures a future in which Black people will continue to be routinely brutalized and killed by police of all races with impunity.

 

4

"one tragedy, two victims. peter liang is a victim too."

 

When someone is murdered there are two roles: the person who kills and the person who is killed; the perpetrator and the victim. Peter Liang is not a victim. To paint the convicted murderer of Akai Gurley as a “victim” is not only wrong but deeply anti-Black. To put the two in comparison as if they are “equally unjust” distorts our understanding of what victimhood is as well as our conceptions of what justice means.

When we claim that Peter Liang is a victim, we do a gross injustice to Akai Gurley and the fact that his life was taken away by Liang. We begin to undermine the very basic idea that a victim of murder is a victim. If we claim that both the killer and the killed are victims, we once again obscure power disparities. The fact is: Peter Liang is still alive and Akai Gurley is not. May Akai Gurley rest and rise in peace, power, and love.

It is not Peter Liang who has suffered an injustice; rather, Liang has received a conviction representative of the actions that he took. That conviction comes down to him from the very system he vowed to protect when he became a police officer. Liang’s supporters should take their grievances to the system and demand equal accountability from white police who kill Black people, or better yet start asking questions about why Liang was ever even in the building where he killed Akai to begin with.

It is Akai whose heart was struck with the bullet from Liang’s gun. It is Akai who bled out in an unlit stairwell while Peter Liang made no attempts to help him. It is Akai Gurley’s family who must be supported as they seek their own justice for the loss of their beloved father, brother, son, and friend.

To claim Peter Liang as a “victim” flagrantly disrespects both Akai Gurley and his family –and by extension Black people’s lives. By framing Akai’s murderer as a victim, what we are really saying is that Black lives don’t matter enough to carry victimhood. We’re saying that Black lives will be devalued even in death.

By prioritizing their own misled calls for justice, Peter Liang’s supporters are blatantly disregarding the justice that Akai Gurley’s family has called for. The injustice that Akai Gurley’s family is facing –of losing a family member to police violence– cannot ever be placed in comparison to Peter Liang’s situation, in any context.

Black people are never afforded any autonomy to determine what justice means to them, and they are always denied resources to obtain that justice. By decentering the family’s calls for justice, Peter Liang’s supporters are reinforcing the conditions that ensure that Black people are denied autonomy to respond to the violence they experience in the ways that they feel called –no matter what that looks like.

 

5

"this is a great show of how asian americans can come together again, as they did with vincent chin."

 

Who was Vincent Chin? According to Annie Tan, Vincent’s niece: “At the height of Detroit’s auto-industry crisis in 1982, Vincent, a Chinese American man, was having his bachelor party, when a group of white laid-off autoworkers called Vincent a ‘motherfucker,’ mistaking Vincent as Japanese, and blaming Vincent for taking their jobs. Two auto-workers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, chased Vincent down and beat him to death with a baseball bat.”

In the wake of the beating and murder Asian Americans of all ethnicities poured into the streets by the thousands to protest the injustice and demand accountability from the assailants. The two men who killed Chin were never indicted.

Vincent Chin is neither like Akai Gurley nor Peter Liang. The murders of Chin and Gurley involved very different circumstances and completely different power differentials. Akai Gurley was a Black man murdered by an Asian police officer; Chin was a Chinese man murdered by two vigilante white men who presumed him to be Japanese. While we must not erase the differences between Vincent and Akai and acknowledge that the systematic murders of Black people by police are not the same as Vincent being murdered by white supremacists; it is important to highlight a few points of similarity in the two cases.

Annie Tan says her uncle had more in common with Akai Gurley than Peter Liang. Lily Chin, Vincent’s heartbroken mother, mourned and organized for justice until her death in 2002. The connection between Vincent & Akai is that their families did whatever it took to fight for accountability and “justice” from the systems who failed to protect their children. Both families must be honored and defended for the losses they have endured and the struggles they have fought.

The idea of Asian Americans as a threat to “American jobs” produced white anxiety and fear in the two men who beat Vincent to death with a baseball bat. Akai was murdered because at every level Black people are prevented from accessing critical infrastructural resources and because the institution of policing in America was created specifically to surveil and control Black people. Infact, early policing of enslaved Black people began in response to white people's anxieties and fears that enslaved Black people outnumbered whites which was a threat to their their supremacy. Both Vincent and Akai were murdered due to white fears, and white anxieties –however the fears and anxieties that they each produced were very different due to the difference in their races.  

Additionally, we should not and do not need to draw comparisons to people who share our racialized identity of Asian American to be able to extend our respect and organize support for Akai Gurley’s family to seek the justice they call for –this is the work we must take up if we want to honor the legacy of Vincent Chin.

 

and finally:

 

We condemn attacks and threats against CAAAV –who have provided crucial support for Akai Gurley’s family– and other Asian American organizations and individuals being targeted by Liang’s supporters for raising our voices. The fact that some of those who have cried out for “justice” for Liang are also attacking other Asian Americans who defend Black people’s resistance to police violence and murder is telling of the work we have to do in un-teaching our communities the harmful lies created by the white supremacist settler colonial police state.

Bayan USA –an alliance of 20 progressive Filipino organizations– remind us that this is not the first time Asian police in America have enacted extreme violence against the people they claim to protect. In the year 2000 Filipino cops, Siapno and Mabanag, were “just doing their jobs” as police officers when they planted evidence and beat up innocent people to meet police quotas and advance their careers. Bayan USA asks, “Does being the same race and ethnicity somehow earn unquestioning loyalty by others of the same race and ethnicity?” The answer is no. We must continue to speak out and challenge the misinformed and anti-Black narratives that Liang’s supporters continue to circulate –especially when those who espouse them share our own race, ethnicity, or even blood. There is a long legacy of resistance to violence, racism, and imperialism by Asian people of all ethnicities in America. The time is now to honor those legacies through organized education in our communities and homes as well as continued efforts to support Black people’s resistance to police violence.

When we align ourselves in ways that support the police –especially an officer like Liang who has already been convicted of murdering Akai Gurley– we align ourselves in supporting a system that was created specifically to control and dominate Black & Indigenous peoples. While some Asian Americans may be familiar with the ways oppressive regimes across Asia have implemented police to commit genocides and protect corruption –we must work to understand that policing in America is ultimately about the protection of white supremacy and settler colonial power. Support for Liang creates a highly visible spectacle that does more to further harm Black people –and our chances of organizing in solidarity with Black people– than it does to highlight the ways that Asian Americans continue to experience racism, oppression, and domination under white supremacy.

We can not expect that Chinese and other Asian police officers will be “treated fairly” by a system that was never designed to include us. We should not support and seek assimilation into institutions that function to support white power. Instead of supporting Asian police officers in their quest to be treated like white police officers, it would be much more helpful and strategic to apply energy and resources towards discouraging Asian youth from participating in the state’s policing apparatus and instead encourage and fund alternative means of preventing and combating violence within our communities. We should not be rallying behind police who kill Black people and demand impunity or lenience; instead we should organize our communities to show up in the tens of thousands to demand justice for the people who are being killed by police.

Simply put: Asian Americans frustrated with racism should invest energy into supporting Black and Indigenous liberation struggles not institutions of white power.

 


Authors Note: 
This piece contains original analysis from kat yang-stevens and may be sourced as:
                                                                                         yang-stevens, kat, “Reframing the Conversation” [2016]                                                                                             Do not plagiarize this work. If you want to write something influenced by this piece, please cite it. 

THIS WORK IS LICENSED UNDER A CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTION-NONCOMMERCIAL-NODERIVATIVES 4.0 INTERNATIONAL LICENSE. DO NOT REPUBLISH OR REPRINT IN PART OR IN WHOLE WITHOUT CONSENT.


As someone who never graduated from high school and who has direct experience of being brutalized and assaulted by police on multiple occasions –for the first time as 17 year old– as well as been targeted and harassed by state and federal policing bodies; I ask that Asian American & Canadian academics, activists, and progressives respect my experiences and voice by amplifying this piece. 
I have not been paid or compensated for the labor of synthesizing and conveying the knowledge produced in either this piece or, “Complicating Our Complicity: Interrogating Anti-Blackness & Settler Colonial Power in the Murder of Akai Gurley”. Asian people who have benefited from this labor and who have the means to do so, please send solidarity funds to Paypal: katyang.resist@gmail.com
We are currently fundraising money to have this piece translated into Pinyin and other languages. If you would like to donate or contribute a translation, please email katyang.resist@gmail.com. 

For further reading, please see: “Complicating Our Complicity: Interrogating Anti-Blackness & Settler Colonial Power in the Murder of Akai Gurley” by Kat Yang-Stevens with contributions from Alex Quan-Pham.


FURTHER READING:

 

MORE FROM OTHER CHINESE AMERICANS:

ASIAN AMERICA WEIGHS IN:

STORIFIES:

SIGN ON:

AKAI GURLEY'S FAMILY SPEAKS OUT:

VOICES FROM BEYOND ASIAN AMERICA:

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR ASIAN FAMILY & FRIENDS ABOUT ANTI-BLACK RACISM:

ON THE ORIGINS OF POLICING IN THE UNITED STATES:

ON BLACK HYPERVISIBILITY:

THE MODEL MINORITY MYTH:

OTHER: