Asian-Americans join in support of protests after George Floyd’s death

Jodi Xu Klein

Asian-American communities in the United States have joined in support of the widespread protests after a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota died in police custody last week.

George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer was fired and later arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

“I’m here today because we keep us safe, and as an Asian-American woman I feel like it’s very important that when we say ‘we keep us safe’, the ‘we’ that we’re talking about are other people of colour,” said Sabrina Wang, an Asian-American protesting in New York’s Times Square on Monday.

A fellow protester, Ana, an overseas Chinese who only gave her first name, said: “It’s extremely crucial [to stand with the black community]. If you educate yourself and study history, you can see how white people have tried to align Asian-Americans with whiteness in ways to divide people of colour and put Asians against blacks, which is obviously incorrect.”

Ana, an overseas Chinese, protests at Time Square in New York City on June 1, 2020, after the brutal death of George Floyd.

Several Asian-American organisations have issued supportive statements in recent days.

The Minnesota-based Coalition of Asian-American Leaders, in an open letter on Friday, called for unity and solidarity in the face of violence.

“Throughout history, there have been attempts to pit Asian and Black communities against each other, a tactic that encourages us to turn on each other rather than tackle our common oppression: the systems of white supremacy. These efforts distract us from the real solution of building cross-racial solidarity to root out racist oppression,” the statement said.

“While Asian communities have been rewarded for our assimilation into whiteness with the lie of the ‘model minority’ myth, it is at times like this crisis that we should remember that our status is always conditional and subject to being taken away by xenophobia,” the coalition said in the statement, which called for some 60 ethnic minority groups including Asian American Federation and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans to work together to battle racial discrimination.

“As immigrants and refugees to the US, our families may not always understand this history, but we inherited its legacy,” the coalition said. “So, in this moment, it matters that we commit to Black liberation and raise our voices to say that #BlackLivesMatter.”

The details leading up to the death of Floyd, who was suspected of using a counterfeit US$20 bill to purchase cigarettes, were caught on camera and immediately triggered protests in Minneapolis and then spread throughout the country and world.

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US Representative Grace Meng, the first Asian-American member of Congress from New York, said that for the last few months, as Asian-Americans faced hostility amid the coronavirus outbreak, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People has stood loud and proud in alliance with Asian community to fight against discrimination.

“In light of the circumstances the country is facing today,” she said, “I cannot fathom the fear a black mother may have for their sons and their children.”

“Let’s find ways to be supportive of each other in fighting for better policies in Congress. Leaders in the black community [have] been there with me every step of the way. Now I want to make sure we are there with them in solidarity,” Meng added.

Ling Luo, chair of the Asian American Democratic Club, a national alliance of Asian-Americans for social justice and cultural tolerance, on Sunday urged the US Department of Justice “to conduct a fair, transparent, prompt and thorough investigation” into Floyd’s death, saying that was “the key to heal the wound this nation is suffering from”.

“Asian-Americans will not forget the friendly help from the African-American community when we faced racial injustice such as the 1982 Vincent Chin case,” referring to a 27-year-old Chinese-American man who was beaten to death by two white men.

The statement by the Coalition of Asian American Leaders also pointed out that “we also cannot ignore the role of officer Tou Thao who stood watch as George Floyd was dying”.

“To see someone who looks like us behave as a bystander to Black death is devastating and painful. This is yet another reason that we must recognise our silence in the face of anti-Black racism, and commit to the ongoing work to dismantle anti-Blackness,” the statement continued.

People take part in a protest outside the US embassy in Dublin on Monday. Photo: PA Wire via dpa

Thao, a 34-year-old officer who stood by as Chauvin pressed on Floyd’s neck with his knee, had six police conduct complaints filed against him, police records show. He has also been fired from the Minneapolis police force.

He was also the subject of a case in which a black man, Lamar Ferguson, alleged that he and another officer beat him until his teeth broke in 2014. The city of Minneapolis paid US$25,000 to settle the civil rights case.

In a statement Saturday, the Committee of 100, a national non-profit organisation of Chinese-Americans promoting constructive relations between the US and China, said the group joined with the black community to “seek a better America”.

“As members of the Chinese-American community – and by extension members of the Asian-American Pacific Islander community – we have experienced increasing levels of discrimination, racism and violence towards people of Chinese and Asian ethnicity over the past few months,” said the statement.

“These acts of hate have no place in America, whether directed against Asian-Americans, Black Americans or anyone else based on the colour of their skin.”

Additional reporting by Joy Chang

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