It has been one week since George Floyd was lynched by four Minneapolis police officers. The death of George Floyd was preventable, as were the deaths of Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, Charleena Lyles, and countless other Black lives who have been lost to systemic racism in the United States.
Officer Derek Chauvin, now being charged with murder and manslaughter, was not alone in George Floyd’s murder. Also complicit were officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and most visibly, Tou Thao, an Asian American officer who, instead of using his authority to stop Chauvin, chose to enable and protect his partner. The JACL denounces the actions of Officer Thao and stands with the Black community in demanding justice for George Floyd and all Black lives.
We must recognize that as violence has erupted from the roots of peaceful protest, it reflects the violence we as a nation have inflicted upon the Black community in our 400-year history as a colonized nation. The genocide began with the colonization of Native American land, to the capture, indentured servitude, and enslavement of African peoples, to Jim Crow, and beyond. We continue to see the legacy of our traumatic history today in the inequities of COVID-19 as Black lives are disproportionately impacted by our failed healthcare system.
During World War II, our community found itself fractured in the midst of the incarceration experience; families, friends, and neighbors torn apart by the decisions they were forced to make. We remained divided in the post-war years, as we sought a path forward trying to find our place in the changing narrative of American society. In the fight for civil rights, there were those who joined Black leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., to ensure civil rights were not solely for the API community, but all communities of color. And yet, we also played into the model minority myth, a divisive narrative that has simultaneously served to both benefit and victimize. The privileges we have gained from this dangerous trope have only further driven a wedge between API’s and other communities of color. We cannot continue on this path: we must stand together if we want to create lasting change. Japanese Americans sought and achieved redress for our unconstitutional incarceration during WWII. It is time that we as a nation come to a reckoning with our history of oppression, and seek reparations for the legacy of slavery. To begin taking the necessary steps to right a grave wrong.
It is painful to acknowledge that in many ways, Mr. Thao does represent our community and our own complicity and failure to act for racial justice for Black lives. As API’s, we sit at the intersections of privilege and oppression. While our experiences with privilege and oppression as individual communities are highly varied and nuanced (for example, the frequent exclusion of Pacific Islander and South and Southeast Asian communities in discussions around race and social issues, or the privilege those of us with lighter skin experience), it cannot be said that we do not benefit from the same systems that serve to hold us down. Our privilege comes at a price, one that has historically served as a way to further oppress Black lives. If we cannot come to terms with and address the privileges we hold and why then we are part of the problem. Our inaction is causing harm, despite most of our best intentions to do good. We can have the intention to do anti-racist work while still committing racist acts.
It is easy and justified to be outraged by the scenes of the police taking the life of an unarmed, handcuffed man. We must also be enraged by the systems that have led to the deaths of so many Black men and women. We have a broken economic system that underpays people for honest work. Hiring decisions continue to be clouded by prejudice. Housing discrimination persists because of unequal access to capital and the legacy of redlining. If we do not feel the same outrage for the daily discrimination that continues to exist, outrage over George Floyd’s murder is hollow and meaningless.
There can be no peace so long as our society and our government remain violent, both in physical action and policy, towards our own citizens. Our time to stand together is now. Black Lives Matter.
The Japanese American Citizens League is a national organization whose ongoing mission is to secure and maintain the civil rights of Japanese Americans and all others who are victimized by injustice and bigotry. The leaders and members of the JACL also work to promote cultural, educational and social values and preserve the heritage and legacy of the Japanese American community.