Yesterday, a jury began deliberating about whether Peter Liang should be found guilty for manslaughter and official misconduct for Akai Gurley’s death. If you don’t recall the case, a little over a year ago Peter Liang, a young cop with the NYPD, was patrolling a stairwell of a housing project when he heard a noise, shot off one bullet from his gun, and killed resident Akai Gurley. According to more articles, Liang and his partner didn’t call for assistance for four minutes, while Gurley’s girlfriend rushed to Akai and attempted CPR.
What complicated this for me and people I know is that Liang is Chinese American- some Chinese folk say Liang is being used as a scapegoat in this larger movement for police accountability. It’s easier to pin police accountability coverage on an Asian person, the community pushes, than to hold white people accountable. Other orgs, like CAAAV in NYC (disclosure- I used to volunteer with CAAAV back in my college years), are standing with Gurley’s family, using the hashtag #APIs4BlackLives to call for broader racial justice and police accountability measures toward black lives.
Let me backtrack for a sec, because my thinking on #APIs4BlackLives has shifted over time. Let me share how I initially responded to Michael Brown’s death and Darren Wilson’s acquittal in November 2014-
Why does this hit me so hard? So I heard that Michael Brown’s mother was marching with protestors tonight. That she was upset and protesters alongside her were also upset. I thought about all of the places that Michael’s mom must’ve seen and gone to in order to find justice for her son. I thought about all the sleepless nights, all the legal stuff, all the national and local press coming to her for questions. In seeing her public statements, in not condoning violence, in trying to push positive change, I wondered how much strength was needed to even say those things. Such class, grace, in such an indecent time. (Facebook post, Nov. 24, 2014)
I thought of Michael Brown’s mother and how she must have been feeling. How much she must be suffering. How much she’s being asked all the time to be this strong figure as she mourns her son’s death, how she continually seeks justice.
And then, the empathetic, sympathetic, but crucial mistake- I tried to relate, in my very honest but tunnel-visioned way, as a person who’s gone through some loss but who’s not black.
Many know that I am the niece of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man who was mistaken as Japanese and was killed as such by two laid-off autoworkers in 1982 Detroit. His death led to a nationwide Asian American movement calling for racial justice. As I comb through my family history, I find out more and more about how my revolutionary great-aunt Lily Chin dealt with the death of Vincent. She was a fighter. And her experiences fighting for Vincent mirrored some of what Michael Brown’s mother must be going through:
And I thought about my 2nd great aunt Lily Chin.[…] Lily would be asked to go around the country to give statements, to stand in front of the camera, before, during, after the multiple trials where our family finally lost. […] According to my 8th great aunt, Lily just wanted to move on from Vincent’s death. But she couldn’t escape it. She moved to China to forget, and then even in China Chinese reporters would go to find her […] She never got peace […] And that’s probably part of the reason why my family doesn’t talk about Vincent very often. Because they’ve been asked to death by strangers.
I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a son, but I further can’t imagine having to push so hard for justice, talk to hundreds of strangers, while not getting that justice, all while trying to stand on your own 2 feet. I’m so tired of this. And I’m thinking of Michael’s mother right now. (Facebook post, Nov. 24, 2014)
I tell these stories often because who I am as a person is so tied to Vincent’s death- my political sense, my sense of justice, my tie to the Asian American community. And, even though I never met my uncle, I still mourn Vincent Chin, as many who are unrelated to him do.
My friends understood the empathetic impetus behind my response. But they, geniuses as they are, rightly, rightly pointed out that
this was not about me. This was not about Vincent, either.
This was about the systemic injustice toward black people in the United States that allowed for the killings of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Natasha McKenna, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, all the others on basically a daily basis.
I was telling a friend of mine Monday that I could go to a police officer today to ask for directions, knowing full well they’re not going to stop and frisk me. I don’t look dangerous, and no one ever thinks I’m a threat, because I’m an Asian woman. I might get the “me love you long time” crap, the “exotic” or “dainty” looks and comments, but I’ve never been physically threatened (except as a teen at school) for my looks or for my race. No one flinches when I walk past (I think). The model minority myth tells people Asians are timid, so no need to worry there. I walk alone on Chicago (and when I’m home, NYC) streets with my pepper spray, but I’ve never had to use it. I don’t worry about getting arrested, and I don’t worry about someone shooting me in the stairwell of my apartment building.
I’m not worried about the economic, social, and mental effects that simply being black in America creates. I’m not.
As a person of color who’s not black, I am under systematic oppressions, sometimes different oppressions, but definitely, definitely not the same kinds, the most persistent kinds, that black folk are. Because, everyone, we live in a world that is fundamentally, economically, historically anti-black, and we need to recognize this, own this in all its parts and ways, and change it.
Liang and the Chinese community supporting him don’t see the larger picture- that we’re all under this guilty anti-black system. I didn’t understand it for a long time, either. The institutions that allegedly don’t provide CPR training probably, probably should do more training on how to use guns. The institutions that target black and brown folk disproportionately can’t change based on a few anti-bias trainings. Meanwhile, people are killed and continue to be killed. And those people getting killed? On the whole, they’re not Asian American like me. Not that Asian Americans don’t get killed in hate crimes, but that’s not the focus here.
As I’ll continue to chant at marches, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” I’ll continue to fight against this anti-black system. and I’ll continue to stand as one of many #APIs4BlackLives.