Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson’s recommendation of probation for former NYPD Officer Peter Liang in the death of Akai Gurley is a deep injustice and insult to the families of all victims of police violence. But, we still have an opportunity to win justice for Akai Gurley before Judge Danny Chun determines Liang’s ultimate sentence on April 14. It’s time for all communities to come together to send a clear message that any police officer who takes a life deserves more than a slap on the wrist.
I know what it feels like to be denied justice by our country’s so-called justice system. Twenty-one years ago, my younger brother, Yong Xin Huang, was killed by an NYPD officer and my family never got justice. Our family’s story and grief are not so different than that of Akai Gurley’s family. The injustice his family now faces at the hands of the justice system is not so different than that my family faced 21 years ago.
My family was a typical Chinese immigrant family. Our father worked in a restaurant; our mother worked in a garment factory. When we came to the United States in 1986, Yong Xin was seven years old. He was our youngest brother and the only son in the family. He had three older sisters, Joyce, me and Janice. We were just like any other new immigrant family — working hard and trying to make a better life for ourselves in the United States. Our family put all our expectations for the future on Yong Xin. He was a good student, son and brother and never got into trouble.
On March 24, 1995, Yong Xin was playing with a BB gun with his friends in the backyard of one of their homes. A neighbor, perhaps thinking the gun was real, called 911. Two police officers arrived on the scene. One of them, Steve Mizrahi, grabbed Yong Xin and pushed his face against a glass door and shot him in the back of the head. According to the autopsy report, Yong Xin's face was covered with injuries, and he was shot at close range.
Unlike current Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who initially indicted Peter Liang for Akai Gurley’s death, Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn District Attorney at the time, did not indict Steve Mizrahi for my brother’s death. If he had indicted Mizrahi and brought the case to trial, the facts of what happened would have become public. But that never happened, and Steve Mizrahi got away with murder.
Nothing could have prepared our family for the indifference of our country’s justice system to my brother’s death. It destroyed us. For everyone in our family, life after Yong Xin's death was never the same. We could not believe that Steve Mizrahi never had to face a day in court for killing my brother.
It has been 21 years since Yong Xin's death, but it's still difficult to talk about it. He is always in our hearts. When I see young men his age, I always think of him.
Around the time of Yong Xin's death, other young people were also killed by the police. Anibal Carrasquillo, Anthony Baez, Anthony Rosario, Hilton Vega, Amadou Diallo … the list is long. All these young people were people of color. My family joined together with many others whose sons and daughters were killed by the police and held rallies and protests to demand justice. Our family is grateful to CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities and other organizations that stood by our side in our fight for justice. But, ultimately, not one of these police officers was indicted. They all got away with murder. My heart breaks to see that 21 years later our justice system still isn’t holding police officers accountable.
I understand that some of my fellow Chinese Americans believe that it’s unfair for Peter Liang to be punished when white police officers who have killed black people have not been held accountable. But, Peter Liang is not innocent; Akai Gurley, the young father Liang killed, is the victim. Just because Steve Mizrahi didn’t face jail time for killing my brother or Darren Wilson didn’t face jail time for killing Michael Brown doesn’t mean we should excuse Peter Liang’s actions. He was convicted of second degree manslaughter and that should have serious consequences. Would probation be a serious enough consequence if a police officer killed your brother?
It shouldn’t be. Twenty-one years ago, my family was denied justice for the killing of my brother. I can’t stay silent when I see that our justice system is about to let another police officer off the hook for killing another young man. I can’t stay silent when I know how painful it is to not only lose a beloved family member, but to have our country’s justice system tell your family his life doesn’t matter.
While Kenneth Thompson isn’t fighting for that justice anymore, he doesn’t have the final word. Between now and Judge Danny Chun’s sentencing of Peter Liang on April 14, people from all communities must voice our outrage at the prospect of equating a young man’s life with probation. My family has been denied justice for 21 years and I don’t want to see it denied to another family.
Qinglan Huang is a longtime New York City resident and advocate for police accountability.