Rookie New York City Police Officer Peter Liang was convicted in Brooklyn of Manslaughter 2° for the killing of Akai Gurley in the stairwell of the Pink Houses. Gurley is still dead, not to mention smeared for the audacity of being the body in which the bullet landed. By its verdict, the jury found that Liang was reckless in causing the death of Gurley.
§ 125.15 Manslaughter in the second degree.
A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when:
1. He recklessly causes the death of another person;
The case didn’t breed the level of outrage that so many other killings of innocent black guys have. After all, this wasn’t a venal act, an indictment of the police for their hating young black men so much that their lives mean nothing. This was flagrant incompetence.
The reaction to the verdict has been, well, peculiar. But then, so too has the quiet surrounding the trial itself.
In the scheme of things to get outraged about, this just doesn’t make it onto the radar. There is no venal intent, so no one seems capable of getting too worked up about a black kid’s death. This time.
Liang is not accused of intentionally shooting Gurley, who was walking in the unlit stairwell with his girlfriend. The bullet ricocheted off the wall and struck Gurley in the chest.
Prosecutors have said Liang acted recklessly by drawing his weapon in the first place. They have also said he and his partner argued for minutes about whether to report the shot for fear of discipline, though prosecutors have not released evidence suggesting the two officers immediately realized someone had been wounded.
Clearly, not the best day for the NYPD, but not the worst either. Among the default excuses when a cop goes bad is “one bad apple.” Here, it was one incompetent apple. While it may not be fun for cops to throw any of their brothers under the bus, Liang’s loss was no big deal. Not only was he a rookie, and a member of a police department that’s bigger than most armies, but his incompetence was personal. He wasn’t a lightning rod for hatred of the cops because of their fear and loathing of the public.
In the scheme of bad stuff done by, and happening to, cops, Liang was no big deal. Akai Gurley was still dead, of course, but tragedies happen. At least it wouldn’t give rise to calls for anything more than better gun training. They can deal with that.
At ATLRedline, Elie Mystal titles his post, “We Got One: Killer Cop Peter Liang Actually Found Guilty Of Killing A Black Man.”
In a shocking turn of events, a New York City police officer who killed an unarmed black man was actually found guilty of manslaughter and police misconduct.
I say “expected” to get away with it because there was a full freaking two week trial. You would expect that a killer whose only defense was “the gun just went off” would be looking to take a plea of some kind. But in this environment, where cop after black-man-killing-cop has evaded mere prosecution, much less conviction, I suppose Liang thought he had a decent chance of an acquittal.
And really, I think he might have been acquitted if his behavior after shooting the man to death hadn’t been so despicable.
Not only did Liang have a decent chance of acquittal, but even in a story about the conviction, the New York ignorance of guns precludes a firm grasp of what exactly went wrong.
At one point, Officer Liang opened a door into an unlighted stairwell and his gun went off. The bullet glanced off a wall and hit Akai Gurley, 28, who was walking down the stairs with his girlfriend, and pierced his heart.
His “gun went off”? Like magic? Did the gun mysteriously discharge a bullet when there was no one around? That was pretty much the defense, that Liang’s hand “tensed” and somehow, who knows how, the trigger was pulled and the gun went off.
That’s not how guns work, of course. And it’s particularly not how the Glocks issued to New York City police officers work, where the trigger pull was increased to 12 pounds to prevent a rash of “accidental” firings by cops who just can’t seem to prevent their guns from just “going off.”
There is a host of reasons why Peter Liang was reckless in his handling of his gun, beginning with the fact that it’s a gun, a tool that can kill someone. He had it unholstered for no reason beyond his generic fear. He had his finger on the trigger despite there being no one to kill. He had it in the same hand with which he turned a door knob. And he pulled the trigger. It’s a gun. The culpable mental state of recklessness is defined as:
“Recklessly.” A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or
to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is
aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk
that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk
must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a
gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person
would observe in the situation.
Pull the trigger of a gun and a bullet comes out. When a bullet comes out, it can hit someone. When it hits someone, it can kill them. That someone can be an intended target or just a black guy who happens to be in a stairwell.
Of course, if it hadn’t been the stairwell of a project, Liang wouldn’t have been so afraid that he felt the need to have his gun drawn. And if it hadn’t been a project, the guy he killed might not have been black.
So yes, Elie is right, we got one. But Akai Gurley is still dead, New York Police officers still can’t handle their weapons and in the grand scheme of cops killing young black men, this conviction was a throwaway. We got one. But not the right one. And not one that changes much of anything.