An overlooked message of the Peter Liang demonstrations
By Xujun Eberlein
On Saturday, Feb. 20, I walked in Boston Common about 11 am, in time to see a large group of Chinese Americans gathering by the Brewer Fountain in front of the gold-domed Massachusetts State House. Behind the crowd, a man in a black ski jacket and a woman in blue jeans quietly placed a small, home-made memorial under a tree. They carefully laid down pine twigs and flower bouquets on the lawn, and set up a cardboard sign with hand-written words:
“TRIBUTE TO AKAI GURLEY”
People came from as far away as Rhode Island to demonstrate in Boston, responding to former New York policeman Peter Liang’s conviction. The majority of the participants were middle-aged, and quite a few brought children with them. Led by a Boston University Professor named Wang Hua, the first thing the demonstrators did together was observe one minute of silence in mourning of Akai Gurley and as an expression of condolences to his family.
I watched them from a distance. I had decided from the very beginning to stay out of the mass rally, and advised my friends to do the same. In addition to personal reasons, I was also concerned about possible adverse consequences of racial tension. But I would be surprised this time.
My first surprise was that a friend, Hong Jiang, a former IT professional who had been skeptical about the rally early on, brought with her two hand-made placards. One read, “Condolences to Mr. Gurley’s family,” and the other “Fair Trial for Peter Liang.” She said she decided to get involved because she really didn’t want the rally sending the wrong message to the public.
As it turns out, these were the two main messages of the rallies across the country that day. Sadly, however, the mainstream media, and many in their readership as well, seem to have seen only the second message or, worse still, to characterize the demonstrations as a “square-off” between the Asian and black communities. Few recognized that the Chinese American community as a whole has emerged from its customary quietness to make a collective bow to the victim’s family, to express regrets and sorrow, to issue a profound apology, and to acknowledge the failure of Liang’s defense team for not delivering an apology until after the verdict was read. Such a collective apology is something unheard of in the 190-year history of Chinese Americans. Read more