NEW YORK: Asian-American police officers have recently been at the centre of tense incidents involving the New York City Police Department.
Officer Wenjian Liu was killed in the line of duty, Officer Peter Liang accidentally shot an unarmed man and Lieutenant Philip Chan was injured in a protest against police brutality.
There has been a little noticed but significant surge in Asian-Americans joining the NYPD force, as the men and women of this generation answer the call to serve their city. The funeral of Officer Wenjian Liu was the first of its kind as it is believed he was the first Chinese-American officer killed in the line of duty.
Liu long dreamed of a career on the force – from the time his family immigrated to New York from China when he was a child. “This was his dream to become an NYPD officer – in some ways it is the ultimate assimilation into America to New York,” said New York State Governor Andrew M Cuomo.
Now there are more than 2000 Asian-Americans in the NYPD – up from just 200 officers 25 years ago. The 80’s and 90’s saw a large influx of Asians making a new life in America. Professor Peter Kwong from Hunter College New York said it was only a matter of time before their children sought steady work. He said: “When first generation of immigrants came here they could not speak English. They could not even pass exams, so it will probably take the second generation to be in the position to apply for these jobs.”
As the Asian community grew, so did a need for Asian officers to break barriers between the people and police. Officer Liu often used his knowledge of the Chinese language to do just that. But nowadays, NYPD officers are assigned to all precincts and with more responsibilities come more risk.
“Where you get assigned is no longer the case of the Chinese guy in Chinatown, where your Cantonese helps and you can be the hero police man walking in Chinatown who everybody goes to,” said retired detective Thomas Ong.
Ong joined the NYPD in the late 70’s – one of only a dozen Asian-Americans on the force. He says the funeral of Wenjian Liu was tough to watch – but gave him hope as hundreds of Asian-American officers arrived from across the country to pay their respects.
“They’re all younger people, the old timers, and they just came to pay respects,” said Ong. “It was really heart-warming to know that 30 years ago when we started it was just a handful of us.” He hopes to see the tradition of civil service continue.
The most recent graduating class of the NYC Police Academy was one of the most diverse in its history. Though Asians are still under-represented in the NYC police department, many wonder if the bravery of officers like Wenjian Liu will inspire the next generation to join the force.