Where Is the Compassion for Black Men in the Criminal Justice System?

Where Is the Compassion for Black Men in the Criminal Justice System?

Overview

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When police officers are shown compassion after killing Black men, who is there to show compassion to Black men and boys who are caught up in the system — sometimes for far less, and other times for nothing at all?

Peter Liang, the former NYPD officer who was tried for the 2014 shooting of death of Akai Gurley, a Black man, was sentenced by a judge to 800 hours of community service and five years’ probation.

As CNN reported, Judge Danny Chun, who is Asian-American, sentenced Liang, 28, also Asian-American, to a reduced sentence of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Gurley, 28.  A jury had found him guilty in February of a greater charge of manslaughter and official misconduct.  Liang’s weapon discharged in a stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, the bullet ricocheting and killing an unarmed Gurley.  The officer did not attempt to administer CPR to the victim.

“I find that given the defendant’s background, and given how remorseful he is that it would not be necessary to incarcerate the defendant to have a just sentence in this case,” said Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, according to The Atlantic.  The judge added that “as I watched the video of the defendant entering the lobby of the Pink Houses, I couldn’t help but feel he was entering with the serious mind of protecting the people.”

“Shooting somebody never entered his mind,” Chun said. “This was not an intentional act. This was an act of criminal negligence.”

“I was in shock and could hardly breathe,” Liang reportedly said after the shooting.

Now, Liang will not serve a day in jail for the death of a man, just as no police officers were held to account for the choking death of Eric Garner — the fallen Black man who became famous in death because he said he could not breathe, and was killed by “New York’s Finest” over a loose cigarette in Staten Island.

That Judge Chun and Liang are both Asian-American must not be overlooked.  The Asian-American community protested in the streets by the thousands, outraged over the guilty verdict for the disgraced officer. They pointed to the prosecution and conviction of Liang as unfair and unjust, as if he was being singled out as the fall guy while other, white officers do not face similar charges.  However, the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence — a community group which has been on the frontlines against police violence for years and stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter — takes a different approach.

In a statement to the Asian and Asian-American communities before Liang’s indictment, CAAAV demanded justice for Akai Gurley.  The organization said that they cannot be complacent in the face of an “inherently flawed criminal justice system,” adding that the fact that Liang is Asian-American does not mean they should not seek justice for Gurley, but rather the opposite.

“We put out this statement to be clear: that the murder of Akai Gurley is a part of the systemic targeting of Black people by the police, and that Officer Liang must be indicted. As a police officer, he is a part of the institutional injustice we see everyday with law enforcement. We demand an indictment of Officer Liang, just as we have with Darren Wilson and Dan Pantaleo,” CAAAV said, putting the death of Akai Gurley within the context of stop-and-frisk policies and the harassment of Black communities, and a system that allows police and armed vigilantes to kill unarmed Black people every 28 hours.  The group also noted that it understood “the political and economic foundation of this country is rooted in anti-Blackness and that the criminal justice system is an extension of this foundation. Asian and Asian American communities who are often positioned as proof that racial uplift is possible despite this foundation, have more to gain from seeking justice than maintaining the status quo.”

Judge Chun showed compassion to Liang for a most-deadly mistake because the convicted man showed remorse.  And if remorse is the criteria for catching a break, then certainly the masses held captive in today’s gulags, slave plantations and work camps would be liberated.  However, no one was there to give a break to the multitude of Black men who languish in the penitentiary for their crimes.  Sometimes those crimes are real, but other times those offenses are manufactured, as is the case with so many young Black men ensnared by the neo-Jim Crow system over a dime bag of weed.  This, in a land where whites use most of the drugs, and yet Blackness is criminalized, and one in three Black babies is destined for prison.

Where was the compassion for Joshua Williams, 19, who in December was sentenced to eight years for starting a fire at a QuikTrip convenience store in Berkeley, Missouri after a fatal police shooting?  The fire was started during protests over the death of Antonio Martin, 18, who was killed by police at a Mobil gas station in Berkeley.  St. Louis County prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for Williams, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

And where was the compassion for Raymon Carter?  Carter received four years behind bars, three years of supervised release, and must pay $500,000 in restitution for the burning of a CVS pharmacy in Baltimore, during the unrest following Freddie Gray’s death.  According to the Baltimore Sun, Carter’s attorney, public defender Premal Dharia, said her client “is incredibly remorseful” for his actions, and this would be his first prison sentence.

Meanwhile, CVS is the subject of two lawsuits in New York from former employees — a class-action federal lawsuit and another in state court — claiming the company racially discriminates against Black and Latino customers through racial profiling and racial slurs.

And while the damage to CVS was tallied at $1.1 million, apparently property rights are more valuable in America than human rights.

This is why we insist that Black Lives Matter, in a society where too often by default, Black bodies are devalued when they are lost to police bullets or the prison warehouse.  And convenience stores and drug stores are worth more than Black men.