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NYPD Officer's Sentencing Reignites Debate Among Asian-Americans

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NYPD Officer's Sentencing Reignites Debate Among Asian-Americans

NYPD Officer's Sentencing Reignites Debate Among Asian-Americans

NYPD Officer's Sentencing Reignites Debate Among Asian-Americans

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NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with New York Times Magazine writer Jay Caspian Kang about former police officer Peter Liang and the issues his conviction brings up in Asian-American identity politics.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Protesters are also upset in New York City where a police officer got a lighter sentence than expected for shooting an unarmed black man in a stairwell in 2014. Officer Peter Liang faced up to 15 years in prison for the death of Akai Gurley. Instead, Liang will get five years of probation.

Some people are relieved to hear about Liang's sentence. The case had divided the Asian-American community. Jay Caspian Kang has written about this for The New York Times Magazine, and when I talked to him earlier today, I asked him what he thought of the sentence.

JAY CASPIAN KANG: Well, I think I'd share in some of the frustration that's felt amongst a lot of the protesters that here's another example of a police officer who killed an unarmed black man and that, as has happened in cases across the country, there will be no jail time.

The conviction in itself was surprising, and I think that it showed some signs of progress on this issue. But I think that the justice system sort of failing to confer any jail time onto Officer Liang - that I just personally share in the disappointment feeling of that.

MCEVERS: You're Asian-American, and you have written about this conflict I mentioned that many Asian Americans feel about this case. Explain that conflict.

KANG: I think it comes from the fact that the first police officer to be convicted of killing an unarmed black man in New York City was Asian and that when you look at other cases like Eric Garner where it is videotaped or Amadou Diallo where the violence is so great - when you sort of compare that to what happened with Peter Liang and Akai Gurley, this sort of incident in which a gun discharged and a bullet ricocheted off a wall - for that to be the first moment, it does seem to be a little bit strange. At the same time, it does seem like justice was done.

MCEVERS: You've written, I cannot adequately describe the conflict in feeling like a race traitor for applauding Liang's conviction while also feeling like a race traitor for questioning it.

KANG: Yeah. I mean, I think it is so rare to see Asian-Americans protest anything, that there's almost this sort of, like, emotional support that you almost want to feel just because you're part of the people.

But it just seemed to me at all times that this was not a thing to protest, that justice had been served and that even if you could question and poke at the particulars of this specific instance of justice, it just felt like having this be the first instance where there are national protests that were covered by the media and where people were showing up all around the country - it just seemed to feed into this sense that a lot of people have had and that has led to a lot of the skepticism and a lot of the conflict amongst Asian-Americans and other groups, which is that Asian-Americans will only sort of protest when they are sort of not afforded the same protections that whiteness generally confronts upon people.

MCEVERS: You mention that people find it difficult to talk about. Why do people in the Asian-American community in particular find this difficult to talk about?

KANG: Well, I think that we don't quite have a language of protest. You know, there is no real written history of Asian-American protests in the United States. I imagine that outside of internment that people would sort of struggle to find one instance where there was an Asian-American protest movement.

Now, that doesn't mean that these things don't exist. They have existed, but for the most part, they're either ignored, or they're very small. And so I think that what is coming out of this is a language of protest, but it's still in a very nascent stage. My hope is that it will lead to better conversations about what is a proper thing to protest or what even is a thing that should be protested, you know, that bigger questions will be asked. Well, now we have found this organizing power, and what are we going to do with it?

MCEVERS: Jay Caspian Kang is a writer for The New York Times Magazine. Thanks so much for being with us today.

KANG: Thank you.

MCEVERS: We were talking about former New York Police Officer Peter Liang. He received five years' probation in the shooting death of Akai Gurley.

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Correction April 25, 2016

In a previous version of this story, we incorrectly said that police officer Peter Liang was sentenced to five years' house arrest. Liang was actually given five years' probation and 800 hours of community service.