My last four or so posts have explored the strange world of Asian-American progressives and their advocacy which seems to promote the idea that Asian-American advocacy should be about anything but advocating for Asian-Americans. Some even suggest that the idea of any race discussions outside of the standard black/white narrative is implicitly an expression of "anti-blackness" - suggesting that any Asian-American endeavour that focuses on Asian-Americans is somehow anti-black. Of course this means that things like Asian-American studies is anti-black simply because by its very nature it exists outside of the black/white narrative and focuses on Asian-American identity.
In order to maintain these bizarre beliefs, Asian progressives resort to progressively convoluted conspiracy theories that hold to the idea that the racist white establishment maintains its own power by privileging Asians with economic and academic rewards - at the expense of white people even. Furthermore, although it is more likely that the model minority myth was created as a means to soften the rampant anti-Asian racism in light of dramatic changes to immigration law in 1965, Asian progressives maintain that it is merely a plot to embarrass civil rights activists and passive-aggressively erode civil rights legislation enacted in the 1960's. In short, Asian-American advocacy is about performing dramatic intellectual backflips to actually avoid advocating for an autonomous Asian voice for the community they claim to speak for.
Instead, Asian-American advocacy is somehow conceived of as an appendage to anti-anti-blackness activism with little of substance to say of its own experience - I don't blame the Asian experience for that. The flurry of reactivism within the Asian blogosphere in the wake of recent police killings of Michael Brown and others has highlighted the ways that this unhealthily co-dependent approach to Asian advocacy has exposed the absurdity of this aspect of Asian progressiveness. Two incidences in particular show how in the rush to piggy-back a weak Asian voice onto black suffering, Asian-American advocacy has both abandoned the necessary nuance of the 21st Century American race experience and, in doing so, failed to present a voice of advocacy for Asian-Americans when it would seem to be the most necessary.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in Asian-American advocacy's response to the shooting death of policeman officer Wenjian Liu and the suspiciously cynical-seeming indictment of Chinese-American cop Peter Liang for the shooting of unarmed African-American, Akai Gurley. Poor Wenjian has been completely ignored by the progressives in Asian-American advocacy and Peter Liang has been basically abandoned and condemned even before he gets his day in court.
Wenjian was an innocent as much as Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, a first-generation Chinese-American immigrant who arrived in America when he was twelve, learned the English language well enough to enable him to provide a much-needed service to the NYPD as a bi-lingual officer, and whose choice of career as a police officer makes him not only a man who had a sense of responsibility to his adopted country, but it also makes him a pioneer in a career path notoriously devoid of an Asian presence. It is men and women like Wenjian who are are breaking down social barriers by their actions and willingness to walk their talk and put their lives on the line in careers where they assume responsibility for upholding the democratic laws and principles of their nation. Sadly, for Asian-American progressives, none of this was worthy of even the most minimal of note.
This highlights the intellectual poverty of those progressives whose thesis seems based on the notion that merely acknowledging the autonomous Asian-American experience is implicitly anti-black. Wenjian Liu simply does not fit this stupid narrative, because his life tells a story of the Asian-American experience that does sit well within the framework of the simplistic and hopelessly inadequate black/white narrative of race in America. Thus, Asian-American progressives merely reinforce the invisibility of the Asian diaspora - Wenjian is the most clear and tragic example of this process in action. Sadly, we cannot blame whitey for it this time.
Awkwardly, though, people like Wenjian quite possibly do more to break down barriers facing ethnic minorities and recent immigrants and galvanize the resolve of the Asian minority than all the reactivism of Asian-American progressives. Why he has been rendered invisible by Asian progressives is bizarre but not surprising. By defining an autonomous Asian-American experience as implicitly anti-black in order to assert the primacy of the black/white racial narrative, Asian progressives leave no room for such awkward characters as Wenjian. As one of the under-represented demographics in America law enforcement Wenjian is one of the pioneering figures breaking down barriers that restrict Asian-Americans from entering the field. I think he deserves more from Asian-America than to be reduced to barely a footnote in the black/white narrative, his life is worth far more than that.
The case of Peter Liang has offered us a stark illustration of how Asian-American progressive thought defines itself out of all relevance to the race dialogue of 21st Century America. Liang is the Asian-American rookie cop who shot and killed an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn apartment complex. Liang states that his gun went off accidentally and Gurley's death was a tragic fluke. To my reading his story seems sound - the victim was standing one floor below Liang in an unlit stairwell and the bullet ricocheted off a wall striking Gurley square in the chest. If the killing was intentional, then that would make Liang an incredibly gifted marksman who was able to guesstimate the trajectory of his aim (in the dark and from one floor above) so that it bounces off a wall straight into the heart of his victim.
Granted, there are some questions about an alleged failure to follow established procedures that could have averted a shooting, but what makes the Liang case contentious is its timing and the decision of prosecutors to indict the rookie cop. Gurley's killing happened in the wake of the high profile and controversial killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, in which the white police officers responsible were neither indicted nor investigated. Brown's death has been more or less ruled as justifiable by a Department of Justice enquiry, but the (white) officers responsible for the deaths of Garner and Rice - both of which were caught on camera and strongly appear to show police recklessness and excess - have escaped indictment. In short, the two cases of police killings of an unarmed black man and a child playing with a toy gun (Garner and Rice) which appear to be unjustified and intentionally excessive have gone unpunished and uninvestigated whilst the case of Liang which appears accidental has led to an indictment.
Whatever the merits of the Liang indictment, it is impossible not to feel discomfort at what some people claim is a legal double standard. Liang, of course, is ethnically Chinese, whilst the killers of Garner and Rice are both white, and for some Asian-Americans this fact is an indication that the law is being enforced cynically such that Liang is being held up as some kind of scapegoat to show that the law works and is not biased against blacks. A petition with over 120,000 signatures calling for the indictment to be dropped, notes that the law seems to have been applied unevenly and suggests a political motive on the part of the prosecutor.....
Prosecutors indicts Officer Liang for Political Gain! Asian American Police Officer Becomes Scapegoat!
NYPD Officer, Peter liang told his superiors that his gun had gone off unintentionally, the bullet rattling off a wall and into an unsuspecting man’s chest, killing Akai Gurley.
Nonetheless, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Gurley’s death lead to a manslaughter indictment this week, whereas police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner case were never charged. Criminal charges appeared more likely in the later two cases, but these two non-Asian Police Officers were never charged.These seem like salient points; both Garner and Rice deserve justice for what looks like deaths resulting from either excessive force and an inappropriate use of deadly force on the part of white officers. Indicting Liang does not prove that the justice system works for blacks, but what it does imply is possibly equally disturbing. If public prosecutors are willing to scapegoat one Asian-American police officer in order to stave off criticisms of bias in the legal system, then all Asian-American police officers are vulnerable to the same injustice. If the law is being used cynically to indict an Asian police officer to appease the justifiably angry black community, then that puts all law-enforcement officers of Asian descent in a very difficult position which could complicate life-threatening situations and make them more vulnerable in such circumstances.
Whilst the use of deadly force should never be approached lightly, sending Asian officers out into the field knowing that they might face a harsher scrutiny and unequal, or unfair, application of the law places another layer of pressure on them that not only increases the danger to their lives, but also has the potential to endanger the lives of innocent bystanders during violent confrontations. In the case of Graner and Rice, the police acted excessively and with a casual use of deadly force, Liang - at worst - may simply have been irresponsible and clumsy. So, whilst there may be reason to indict for failure to follow procedure, the very fact that Liang's mistakes are being received with such gravity when blatant, recorded police brutality and inappropriate use of force in the Garner and Rice cases are being overlooked should set Asian-American alarm bells ringing.
Sadly, as one might predict based on my previous writing on Asian-American advocacy, the potential damage to the advancement of Asian-Americans in law enforcement, as well as the blatant, cynical application of scrutiny and the law has been ignored by those who proclaim themselves to be the spokespeople for the community. Even worse, some of these Asian actvists are actively promoting racial hostility to both Asian-Americans in law enforcement, as well as the general community.
In the immediate wake of the Gurley shooting, Asian-American advocacy group - CAAAV - issued the following statement.....
We put out this statement to be clear: that the murder of Akai Gurley is a part of the systemic targeting of Black people by the police, and that Officer Liang must be indicted. As a police officer, he is a part of the institutional injustice we see everyday with law enforcement. We demand an indictment of Officer Liang, just as we have with Darren Wilson and Dan Pantaleo........When the police abuse their power, kill, and aren’t held accountable for their actions, officers are affirmed that they can kill with impunity.....Without a complete and thorough overhaul of these systems, we will have more Akai Gurleys and more Officer Liangs, more Darren Wilsons and Mike Browns, more Rekia Boyds and Dante Servins.In other words, in the minds of CAAAV, Liang is guilty of racial bias merely by virtue of his being a police officer. The facts of the case be damned, according to CAAAV, a shooting that is being acknowledged even by the prosecuting District Attorney as unintentional can in no way be viewed to be equal in kind to the obvious abuses of power in the Garner and Rice cases. Again, the grandiose proclamations of CAAAV has hung Asian-American law enforcement officers out to dry in a job where they already face difficulties and discrimination. Asserting a racial motive on Liang's part - without an ounce of evidence - is merely charging guilt by association and is little more than a call to deny justice rather than implement it.
An article in Salon earlier this month goes even further and not only takes it as a given - again without evidence - that Gurley's shooting was grounded in racial injustice, but also implies a racist motive to those who speak out against his indictment......
But in turning from protests against police brutality to outreach at the Chinese New Year parade, #Asians4BlackLives is refocusing its energies on confronting the ongoing existence of anti-black prejudice within many Asian immigrant communities. The recent indictment of Chinese-American New York City police officer Peter Liang for shooting and killing an unnamed black man, Akai Gurley, in the staircase of a housing project last November, is a stark calling of the question that #Asians4BlackLives is putting forward: “Which side are you on?”This, in a nutshell, is why I have struggled to find intellectual value in the claims and proclamations of Asian-American anti-anti-blackness activists. There are absolutely no reasons to believe that those who oppose the indictment of Liang are acting out of any anti-black sentiment. None. What Asian-American reactivists seems unable to comprehend is that there are nuances about race and justice that their rigid adherence to the black/white narrative cannot possibly cover. Worse still, by forcing the Asian racial experience into an inflexible heuristic that effectively renders Asians invisible, Asian anti-anti-blackness reactivists are merely contributing to the creation of even more layers of injustice and racism.
Asian "anti-black prejudice" is little more than a point of rhetoric that Asian progressives like to assert but never seem to want to seriously investigate. I don't claim to know how prevalent - or not - anti-black racism is in Asian-America, but there is something slimy about implying that Asian reactivists' canvassing for support within the community is itself an indication of these alleged prejudices. It's more likely that Asian reactivism knows next to nothing about the community it claims to speak for. Focusing on the "outreach" efforts of various Asian-American Al Sharpton wannabes and not the actual response from the community (since that may disprove the rampant racism claims) may well indicate that Asian-American progressives are more married to their self-aggrandizing narrative as morally superior outliers in a community of Nazis, than to any real commitment to truth and justice. Which brings me to the far more serious point.
Support for Liang is in no way, shape, or form, implicitly anti-black, and those who question the circumstances of his indictment show a far more genuine commitment to justice and fairness than the adherents to the hopelessly simple-minded black/white racial narrative ever could. The case has even neighbours of Gurley questioning the indictment....
But for several residents, the indictment of Officer Liang — coming after grand juries in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island declined to indict white officers in other deaths of unarmed black men — only underscored how capricious justice could be.........How could they have faith in the system, they asked, if it seemed to value their lives only intermittently?......“You think if the officer’s not a minority, he would get indicted?” said Mr. Rosario, who grew up in the Pink Houses. “If he was Caucasian, he wouldn’t be indicted. In Eric Garner, they had everything on the table and they didn’t do anything. Here there’s no video, no proof, but they indicted him.”The avoidance of this blatant nuance on the part of Asian advocacy groups is a stark reminder that Asian advocacy avoids advocating for Asians and that any Asian-American that makes any kind of mistake or even merely questions the prevailing black/white orthodox narrative can expect to be marginalized and all but expelled from the community.
Liang's indictment jeopardizes the opportunities of, often lower-class and poor, Asian-Americans seeking advancement through law-enforcement careers to be treated fairly and with equality. By pompously and self-righteously washing their hands of Liang, Asian-American advocacy is also washing its hands of justice for Asian minorities who find themselves in situations where the black/white narrative does not apply. Liang's case is a prime example of this; he does not have the protection of white privilege, nor a powerful black voice noting the cynical and uneven application of the laws. This is a classic of the Asian racial experience; not black enough to be considered vulnerable to racial injustice, and certainly not white enough to share in the benefits of whiteness. Asian-American advocacy seems not to possess the intellectual nous to fathom the autonomous Asian narrative that this state of affairs deserves.
Finally, I cannot help but emphasize just how damaging this simplistic approach to America's complex race narrative may be for Asian-American law-enforcement officers. The kinds of sentiments expressed in the CAAAV statement and the Salon article have the potential to increase the dangers faced by Asian-American police officers as they carry out their duties. This may be particularly acute in situations where Asian policemen and women interact with the black community. From the privileged comfort of their trendy apartments in recently gentrified urban neighbourhoods, paid for by Ivy-League educations, Asian-American progressives have seen fit to hold court and pass judgment on members of their own community - like recent immigrants and lower-class Asians- about whom they know nothing, and about whom they probably don't want to know anything.
Sadly, the narrative that these self-aggrandizing wannabes want to push of an Asian-America brimming with anti-black racism that they are working like superheroes to eradicate may lead to more confrontation in the field, and less support from law-enforcement institutions for Asian officers faced with life-threatening situations involving black suspects. Good one.