Generally speaking, mainstream media has a tendency to seek a scapegoat to subsidize public unrest over a specific issue. In fact, the media always plays a vital role in cornering the scapegoat.
Police brutality, specifically police brutality against African-Americans, is a highly controversial issue in the media and society today.
Recently, ex-NYPD officer Peter Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for Akai Gurley’s death on Nov. 20, 2014. According to reports by The New York Times, on that day, when Liang and his partner Shaun Landau were patrolling the Louis H. Pink Houses, armed officer Liang opened the door to a “pitch black” stairwell and fired his weapon. Consequently, the bullet hit a wall, bounced and struck Gurley, “who was walking downstairs with his girlfriend,” according to the police report.
Liang has been criticized and condemned for pulling the trigger in the first place and hesitating to report the shooting to his superiors. Unfortunately, Liang is said to have been too afraid to lose his job. Most importantly and critically, Liang is reported to have not helped Gurley, who was suffering from his gun wound on the stairwell.
Akai Gurley is a man of color, making this another incident in this tumultuous period of racial tensions.
Whether the verdict is just or too harsh, it is evident that Liang did not strictly adhere to police protocol, and he may not have had enough training. Many reports have said that he may have just “freaked out” because he was, in fact, a rookie on the job. Liang may not even have been qualified for his former position, because “throughout the trial, Officer Liang appeared young, scared and unqualified to perform dangerous work – in short, an awkward fit as a poster boy for people angry over police shootings,” according to Michael Wilson of the New York Times.
However, the media is only making matters worse for Gurley's family and for future cases about police brutality by highlighting the races of the victim and the attacker through media reports. This makes the public view the incident as an intended crime against the African-American community and takes away from future, truly racially-motivated crimes to come.
Just as Wilson voices, “Any arguments about racial motivations mainly exist outside the courtroom where Mr. Liang was convicted, detached from the facts of the case presented at trial.”
Moreover, “testimony seemed to indicate that Officer Liang did not see Mr. Gurley before firing, which stripped race from the nuts and bolts of the matter.”
The media is causing multiple ripple effects.
As the media highlights that Liang is of Chinese descent, it seems as if the white community is taking a step back from the issue, when in fact, whether the cases were proven in favor of the victims or not, most of the police brutality cases against African-Americans involved white police officers.
There are already articles with headlines such as, “Chinese-Americans (and Chinese) Defend Peter Liang,” “Peter Liang case echoes all the way to China,” “Many Asians Express Dismay” and “Frustration After Liang Verdict.”
Thirdly, if such “media play” persists, it will create yet another partition in American society between white Americans, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
Already, there are articles with headlines such as, “Former NYPD Cop Peter Liang’s Guilty Verdict Leaves a Community Divided,” “Asian and black communities square off over cop prosecution,” “Reflections on Anti-Black Racism Among Asian Americans,” “Peter Liang’s Conviction Shouldn’t Be Dividing the Asian American Community” and “How Should Asian-Americans Feel About the Peter Liang Protests.”
Although everyone, including journalists, have a right to their own opinion of the case, I personally believe that articles and headlines of such court cases should mainly focus on what is discussed in court and not highlight aspects of those involved, such as their race and nationality, to stir more interest and attention.
Liang should be condemned for exactly what he has been proven beyond doubt to have done wrong, not for what the public thinks he has done wrong.