THE Staten Island case of Eric Garner, the African-American man killed in a chokehold involving an unindicted New York City police officer, has made headlines all over the world and in hundreds of communities. Concerned cries for justice have echoed throughout the Asian American community, where academics and civil rights advocates have been proactive in showing their support for the Garner family and raising awareness for a serious issue of race and color.
“While we do not experience racism in the exact same way as Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, I think we should look at cases of state-sanctioned violence and police brutality against Asian Americans—Fong Lee being one example—to better engage our communities,” said Minneapolis-based poet and activist Bao Phi.
Activists like Phi are busy imploring the Asian American community to better understand the connections it has with other communities of color, and why incidents like the Eric Garner case can affect them too.
Phi encourages Asian Americans to reach out to “those that may be hesitant or haven’t had access to anti-racist frameworks or language access to grassroots-based movements” in order to “involve our communities to honor and learn from the history of shared struggles and solidarity.”
Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA-NY) participated in a justice rally at Manhattan’s Foley Square in support of Eric Garner. They noted in a statement that police brutality is a very serious issue which also occurs in the Asian-American community, such as the case of 84-year-old Kang Wong, who received stitches to the head after being given a jaywalking ticket in Manhattan. Other incidents, the organization noted, involve unlawful strip searches, assaults, and even fatal shootings.
“Justice shouldn’t only matter when it involves people who look like us,” wrote blogger Grace Hwang Lynch in a BlogHer post about the Garner case and how to understand incidents of police brutality. “But sometimes it’s easier to relate when the issues hit home in our own communities.”
She referred to the 2003 case of Cao Bich Tran, a Vietnamese-American woman who was shot and killed by San Jose police after allegedly threatening them with a large vegetable peeler tool commonly used in Southeast Asia. The officers involved were also not indicted.
Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN), a grassroots organization dedicated to empowerment and activism, called upon the community to use its inter-generational understanding of pain, trauma, and war to better understand the experiences of others.
“As Black communities charge genocide, war and state violence on their lives and futures by the forces that are meant to protect them, we know deeply the meaning of these very words and experiences as we carry the weight and history of mass human rights violations against our people from one side of the world to the other,” the group wrote in an open letter on its Facebook page.
University of Washington Bothell History Professor Scott Kurashige noted that the image of Asian Americans as a “model minority” pits them against other communities of color, and masks the reality that many struggles with racism and institutional repression are shared experiences, for all minorities.
“Those contradictions must be wrestled with by anyone seeking true solidarity in the struggle for social justice,” Kurashige said.
In Washington, many minority congressional staffers walked off their jobs on Dec. 11, gathering on the steps of the Capitol with their hands raised to show support for the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the black teenager who was fatally shot in August by an unindicted white police officer in Ferguson, MO. Both the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and the Asian Pacific American Staff Association joined with the Congressional Black Associates and other federal employees, led by Senate chaplain Barry Black, in planning the event.
“These congressional staffers put in incredibly long hours, nights, and weekends working to pass legislation to help people live better lives, so I fully support them taking a few moments today to pray with the Senate chaplain for Congress to take action to ensure that all Americans are treated equally before the law,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland).
Seeding-Change.org posted a list of solidarity statements, informative articles and resources to help Asian Americans, activists and organizers better understand the seriousness of the issue and the need for solidarity among communities.
“From San Francisco/Bay Area, Los Angeles to Madison, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Providence and DC, Asian Americans have been showing up and busting up the ‘model minority,’ which is used to maintain white supremacy, anti-blackness and capitalism. We need a Model Minority Mutiny,” the site states.
Fil-Ams join ‘Million March;’ outcry against racism
On Saturday, Dec. 13, Filipino Americans in New York City joined in a large citywide march that started at Cooper Union and culminated at Washington Square Park. Dubbed the “Million March Day of Anger,” an estimated 50 to 60 thousand protesters took to the streets in support of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, chanting “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Fist up, right back!”
“We, as Filipino-American youth and students, stand in solidarity with the families of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and everyone who has lost loved ones as a result of state-sanctioned violence,” said Chrissi Fabro, Chairperson of Anakbayan New York, a national youth and student organization working to educate, mobilize, and unite the Filipino community for social change, and to address important issues that affect Filipinos in the US and the Philippines.
“We join because an injury to one is an injury to all. We condemn the state violence against communities of color and the culture of impunity that breeds Darren Wilsons and Daniel Pantaleos,” Fabro continued, referring to the two officers who were not charged.
Anakbayan addresses that the stories of Brown and Garner are also similar to the experiences Filipinos face. “The killings of people of color and impunity that is prevalent in the US resembles the killings of community leaders and activists and the culture of impunity that allows perpetrators off the hook in the Philippines.”
Fabro remarked that over 200 cases of extrajudicial murders of activists remain unsolved under the Aquino administration, while those responsible for these crimes and human rights violations are still walking free.
Addressing a serious issue that minorities face, Anakbayan also calls upon its Fil-Am community to continue reflecting on and challenging racism.
“We recognize that anti-Black racism has permeated even our own community. We acknowledge that this is a product of centuries of Western colonialism and assimilation to American culture that brainwashes us to be ashamed of our beautiful, brown skin,” said Anakbayan rep Joelle Eliza Lingat.
Activists are calling for Filipinos to be more active in what they call the “new” civil rights movement in the US.
“Every 28 hours a Black person is shot by the police. We challenge Filipinos, especially youth and students, to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters by being agents of change in our own community. We must actively challenge racism and prejudices against other oppressed peoples,” concluded Lingat.
“Let’s conduct discussions, dialogues and fora to educate ourselves and our community about the evils of racism and its systemic roots.”
(With reports from NBC News, Seeding-Change.org, Anakbayan New York)
(LA Midweek December 17-19, 2014 Sec. A pg.1)