I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…
I hate prisons. Hate that we haven’t figured out a better way to deal with people who commit crimes than throwing them in a hole.
But prison is what we’ve got now for people who fire guns and don’t much care who the bullet strikes. New York police officer Peter Liang fired his gun in November 2014 because he was afraid of the dark. We’ve all seen cop shows where the officer pulls his gun but keeps his finger outside the trigger guard till a suspect is in sight. Liang didn’t sight anyone but his finger was tense against the trigger in the dimly lighted hallway of an apartment house full of people when he heard a loud noise and jerked that finger in terror. A man of color, Liang heard the bullet ricochet and strike the chest of another man of color he’d never known, met, or seen.
Liang and his partner stood around arguing about who would call in the accidental shooting while the man died in his girlfriend’s arms. Neither cop tried to save his life. They later testified it would have been useless because they didn’t know what to do anyway.
Two months ago Liang was convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct. He was looking at fifteen years in prison.
Today the judge sentenced Liang to five years’ probation, and community service. I know people who were sentenced to probation and community service for swimming in someone else’s pool. The judge said he could tell, just by looking at the surveillance video of Liang entering the building, that the officer “was entering with the serious mind of protecting the people,” and that “(S)hooting somebody never entered his mind.” That was some video. I don’t remember ever putting my finger against a trigger on a big boys’ gun without thinking I might shoot somebody or something.
Still, the sentence was far worse than it was for the cop who, that same month, deliberately shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice to death for playing with an Airsoft gun at a Cleveland playground. Far worse than it was for the New York City cop who, four months earlier, deliberately choked Eric Garner to death for selling cigarets on the street. Those guys weren’t even charged for the black lives they took. Just routine police work.
Maybe Liang can use the eight hundred hours of community service he owes traveling from police department to police department in the United States, talking about the dangers of sending poorly trained officers out there to protect their communities.