Dreams in Danger
Yiguang Ju, Princeton, New Jersey
Today, we stand here because our dream of justice and equality is in danger.
Akai Gurley had a dream to be a good father to his 2 year-old daughter, but sadly he was killed by an accidental gun discharge of Officer Peter Liang. Gurley’s dream turned to a tragedy.
Officer Peter Liang also had a dream, like every officer standing here today, to be a police officer who keeps the community safe, but in this tragedy, he was convicted of manslaughter by selective prosecution. Liang’s dream also became a tragedy.
If our community continues to be silent, the names may change, the circumstances may vary, but one thing for sure is that one day the same tragedy may come to one of us.
Why do these tragedies repeat so often? It is because our policing and justice systems are failing. It is because we have a large inequality of living. In 2004, a similar tragedy happened in the same area. Unarmed Timothy Stansbury Jr was killed by an NYPD officer. The grand jury declined to indict the Officer. Just one year ago, Eric Garner was killed by an NYPD officer’s chokehold while pleading “I can’t breathe” 11 times. The grand jury again decided not to indict. These unjustifiable deaths and police power abuses fragment our society and fan the flames of mistrust in our police and justice systems.
Liang’s conviction coincides with the eruption of mistrust to police department and justice system. Liang was a rookie officer, yet he was assigned to conduct a night patrol in one of the most dangerous housing projects in the city. His gun accidentally discharged when he was startled by a sound. This time, by selective prosecution, Liang was convicted of “reckless” manslaughter. In NY law, “reckless” implies that he was “aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk.” In fact, Liang even did not know Akai Gurley was there. Obviously, the conviction of reckless manslaughter is not supported by any reasonable and fair examination of the evidence and the environment.
Peter Liang’s conviction raises more questions than it answers. The conviction is made at a time when tensions among NYPD, the justice system, and the public are very high. Not surprising, Peter Liang was “conveniently’ selected to become a scapegoat. This conviction is neither fair nor acceptable. A true justice should be equal for all and must be colorblind.
This tragedy could be avoided if NYPD did not send two rookie officers to patrol in one of the most dangerous places in the city. 18 months in service should never be enough experience to tackle such an adverse environment. The tragedy could be avoided if NYPD had a better policing protocol. The tragedy could be avoided if the dangerous housing projects did not exist.
We are not here to say Peter Liang is innocent. There is no winner in this tragedy. We are here to share in the sorrows of both families. Both men and both families are the sacrifices to our failing police and justice systems. Today, we are here to seek equality and justice. We are here to unite and to fight for a better future for all. From now on, none of us, nor our future generations, would become the next sacrifice.
Perhaps the problem of social inequality is even greater than the failure of the police and justice systems. We should ask our government why so many dangerous projects like the Pink Houses still exist in the most prosperous city in this country. These tragedies could be all avoided if we strive for true equality and social justice for all people.
In closing, let me use Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words to conclude my speech: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Selective prosecution and inequality are dangerous to our dreams!
Justice does not fall from the sky. Justice only comes after we try. Justice has to start from somewhere. Why not start from here, from Princeton, to New York City, and to the rest of the world.
Photos provided by Wechat friends