by Robin Lee
I WENT TO Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn on the afternoon of February 20th. Yet I was not sure what side I was on.
Uneasiness Towards Sino-centrism
I AM A 1.5 Gen Taiwanese-American. I grew up in Taiwan for half of my teenage years. That means I don’t identify as Chinese nor Chinese-American. I am one of the last person who would be rallied around Chinese-ness or Sino-centrism.
It is this exact identity that made me unable to chant with other protesters at #freeliang or #justiceforliang movement. I could not resonate with the 10,000+ Chinese Americans who went on the street and felt their community has been bullied by the American justice and police system. I even heard some Chinese-American kid use the equivalent of the N-word in Mandarin to refer to the #blacklivesmatter protesters. The Sino-centric view permeating there was frightening.
Despite my feelings of distance from Chinese-Americans, I also have mixed feeling with the other popular narrative that “Liang’s conviction is just and we should hold him accountable,” which we see among Asian Americans. This narrative centers around the need for a universal standard on holding police officers who kill innocent lives accountable.
Esther Wang writes:
As a community, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t call for justice when an Asian person is harassed, targeted or killed by the police and then act to protect an Asian police officer when they’re the ones who’ve killed.
A petition statement issued by some Asian-Americans in Los Angeles writes:
In all of these cases, the officers were not held accountable and justice continues to be denied for those people and their families. If we don’t demand accountability of all police officers — including Peter Liang — how can we expect accountability when police officers brutalize our own communities?
I agree with this much. Of course Liang should be indicted for a lethal mistake. Of course we shouldn’t rally behind dropping his charges. I signed the petition as well.
However, I’ve begun to wonder as to the impact of this narrative on the political involvement among Asian Americans.
We Risk Silencing Ourselves
THE MOST problematic effect of the polarization of these two political positions is a silencing effect on those of us who care about social issues but are less politically active. I see myself and some friends often revert back to political silence after reading articles that call for “keeping Liang accountable”.
In a way, being calm is perpetuating the model minority myth. We are silencing ourselves. For me to remain progressive and rational, it seems that the right thing to do is NOT to rally behind either calls for #freeliang or #justiceforliang, because that will be asking for a double standard either way. So not blindly advocating #freeliang is the right thing, in my view.
But since the indictment and conviction of Peter Liang, there are many Asian/Chinese-Americans who have become politically active, but often in a Sino-centric way. That is to say we have failed in mobilizing the other Asian-Americans who do not support #freeliang to be more socially progressive and even join efforts with Black Lives Matter, and we can see this in their responses.
I recognize that in the petition statement from LA Asian-Americans, there’s a call for joining the Black Lives Matter movement.
Instead of demanding that charges be dropped for Peter Liang and denying justice for Akai Gurley, Asian-Americans can support Black Lives Matter LA in calling Prosecuting Attorney Blake Armstrong to drop the charges against LA locals who have been fighting for police accountability. We can raise our anger against the LAPD and the LA Police Commissioner’s own record of charging too few officers with inappropriate use of deadly force.
I fully agree with this. That should be the next step and focus in responding to #freeliang rallies.
INSTEAD OF stopping at “Let’s hold police officers accountable,” we should be more vocal about policing. We should try to draw connections with the #freeliang camp on questioning policing techniques. We could be critical about the legal resources Liang has from the police as an Asian-American. We could be angry about why police academy does not train police in CPR very well.
Then when we listen to, rather than dismiss, the anger from the #freeliang protesters, perhaps there’s chance to keep the dialogue going. We could use this opportunity to reflect on what police should be doing. We should persuade our friends and families on why criminal justice reform matters.
Indeed, it’s unreasonable to deconstruct Sino-centrism and racial bias passed down from the colonial past overnight. And it won’t be easy to reach out to both those who held “One Tragedy, Two Victims” signs and those who wear BlackLivesMatter shirts. But calling out #freeliang protesters as “unacceptable” or “ignorant and racism in reverse” probably does not help us move towards the ideal goal. I believe the way we should respond to #freeliang is by being vocal, pragmatic, and progressive.