Forty years ago, on the eve of his wedding, a young Chinese-American named Vincent Chin was fatally beaten with a baseball bat in the streets of Detroit by two white men shouting anti-Asian slurs. The subsequent miscarriage of justice – neither of the attackers served a day in jail for the crime – marked the birth of the Asian American civil rights movement.
What made Chin’s murder all the more egregious, said Helen Zia, an author and veteran AAPI and LGBTQ community activist who worked in Detroit at the time of Chin’s murder, was that “there was no question in anyone’s mind, whether the killers were black or Asian. , if they hadn’t been white, they would have gone to prison for a very long time. So the feeling of injustice was great.
Zia spoke at an Ethnic Media Services briefing to highlight plans for a special commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Chin’s death in Detroit (June 16-19) and efforts to build interracial solidarity to deal with the current outbreak of racist violence.
On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was beaten in a racially charged attack in Detroit, Michigan. The authors, both white, were released on probation.
Noting the parallels between 1982 and 2022, Zia recalled that Chin’s murder occurred amid growing public concern that manufacturing jobs were being relocated to Asia even as inflation, fueled by an oil crisis , had already reached 20%. Meanwhile, the Reagan administration was dismantling social security programs such as unemployment benefits, food stamps, and mental health services – policies whose effects are still being felt today.
“There were people in C-suites, heads of auto industries, people in the halls of Congress saying we were at war because Japan makes fuel-efficient cars,” Zia said, ignoring the fact that German cars were even more fuel efficient. “It was a scapegoat to blame an outside force for the difficulties that were happening inside America.”
This has happened many times in American history, Zia noted, pointing to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that prohibited Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States, and the administration’s national security program. Trump who was focusing counterintelligence resources on fighting “Chinese espionage”.
Then, as now, Asian Americans came together with Black Americans, Arab Americans and people of all backgrounds, classes and faiths to speak out against racist violence, Zia said, despite concentrated efforts to keep people divided, including misinformation implying that many of the rising oneAnti-Asian hate crimes are committed by black people.
Zia noted that the majority of attackers against Asians are white, and that black leaders — from Jesse Jackson to Stacey Abrams to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — have spoken out against Asian violence, even as Asians have rallied to support the Black Lives Matter protests following George’s murder of Floyd.
“A study by the University of Michigan and published in the summer of 2021 shows that 75% of Asian Americans’ abusers are white,” said John C. Yang, President and CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. (AAJC).
“This hatred is based on ‘replacement theory’ in which extremists argue that all of our communities of color seek to replace white Christian men with guns,” Yang noted. “There is a lot of desperation, but we will do everything we can to help dismantle it.”
Yang spoke of the strong support he personally received from black, Latino and Native American civil rights leaders following incidents such as the mass shooting of Asian beauticians in Atlanta last year. “There is an ally that I have found among my communities of color,” he added.
Lisa Cylar Barrett, director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, identified “a common narrative” that if one group automatically advances, another group gets left behind or falls behind. The narrative is perpetuated by “a white power structure that seeks control and is afraid of the growing communities of color in this country.”
“We’ve had people in political offices and media stations, corporate representatives creating an environment where misinformation and misinformation has become normalized,” Barrett said. “And we need to do more to push that narrative forward with stories that really help people see the humanity in each other.”
Michael German, a member of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program, who previously investigated white supremacists for the FBI, argues that until there are more accurate official data on hate crimes, “the people will not understand that white racism is much more common in our society, that it is in many ways fundamental in our society.
At present, he called the official data on hate crimes “so poor”.
Despite the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 1990, requiring the Department of Justice to collect “accurate data”, DOJ policy has been to defer investigation of hate crimes to national law enforcement. and local authorities, although only about 15% of police departments acknowledge that such crimes occur in their jurisdiction, German pointed out.
While the Bureau of Justice’s National Crime Victim Survey reports an average of 230,000 violent hate crimes per year, the DOJ only prosecutes 25 defendants per year.
“There were always racist whistles that politicians used to try to get votes,” German said. “But what’s happening now is that they openly support these causes, appearing at campaign events with members of right-wing activist groups.”
Speakers noted that the Biden-Harris administration has issued a directive to federal agencies to consider how they can “make racial equity real.” The Department of Justice, meanwhile, is expected to release several new initiatives over the coming week aimed at addressing the recent increase in hate crimes that primarily target Black and AAPI communities.
These efforts must extend to other elected members of legislatures and school boards, as well as the community, the speakers agreed.
Zia also pointed to states like Illinois and New Jersey that have passed bills to create K-12 programs that recognize the true history of Asian Americans. At least nine other states are discussing similar initiatives.
Ethnic Media Services