Cover art by Hanifa Abdul Hameed
On May 14th, 85+ Asian and LGBTQ+ organizations across the United States released a statement in opposition to the S.937 COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, passed by the Senate on April 22, 2021, to address anti-Asian racism, xenophobia, and the hate crimes that have increased by 150% against Asian-Americans since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations like AAPI Women Lead, Transgender Law Center, Red Canary Song, Asians for Black Lives, and more signed to voice their doubt and distrust regarding what the bill is enforcing: is it truly addressing the root of anti-Asian hate in the United States, or is it a shallow dismissal of the role of white supremacy in the struggle for Asian-American liberation, only to bolster the role of law enforcement that puts other racial minorities at a disadvantage?
A part of their statement reads: The COVID-19, Hate Crimes Act, contradicts Asian solidarity with Black, Brown, undocumented, trans, low-income, sex worker, and other marginalized communities whose liberation is bound together. Furthermore, the bolstering of law enforcement and criminalization does not keep us safe and, in fact, harms and furthers violence against Asian communities facing some of the greatest disparities and attacks – sex workers, low wage workers, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, youth, women, trans and non-binary people, migrants amongst others.
Many Asian-Americans have voiced their skepticism of the new hate crimes bill, which stresses the increased responsibility of law enforcement and the empowering of the police in identifying, investigating, and reporting hate crimes. According to the reported provisions of the bill, police will “develop a system for collecting hate crimes data, establish a hate crimes unit within the agency, and engage in community relations to address the hate crimes in that jurisdiction.”
While the idea of strengthening law enforcement to protect Asian lives and prevent further hate crimes seems rational, maybe even beneficial, at first glance, our community must realize that this bill is only a misleading take on Asian solidarity, especially in solidarity with other BIPOC. The institutions and the law enforcement in the United States operate on white supremacy. One of the main goals of white supremacy in a culturally and racially diverse country is to create further division between minority groups to extend and maintain this systemic hold on racial minorities.
Giving more authority to an already overfunded system disproportionately tilts the balance of power, putting racial minorities at risk, especially Black people. Mapping Police Violence shows Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by police and 1.3 times more likely to be killed unarmed. Most killings by police begin with traffic stops, mental health checks, domestic disturbances, or reported low-level offenses. 98.3% of killings by police from 2013 have not been charged.
The world has seen how the police are unequipped and inadequately trained to handle mental health incidents (and all issues generally), like in the tragic case of Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man who was murdered by police officers through a carotid restraint (which has since been banned) and a fatal dose of ketamine to sedate him. He, unfortunately, went into cardiac arrest and died three days later. It has been seen in a loss to the Asian community when Filipino-American man, Angelo Quinto, displayed signs of paranoia, and his sister called the police. He was unresponsive after an officer knelt on him for five minutes, echoing the earlier murder of George Floyd, another Black man at the hands of police last May.
Black communities have a long history of over-policing, see redlining — lack of funding for their communities, leading to higher crime rates, perpetuating this cycle of police presence, and escalating to police brutality. The police enforced Jim Crow laws, waged the War on Drugs, and have cracked down on hundreds of peaceful protests. To summarize: the police work in opposition to racial minorities. We have seen it in every unjust murder of someone from our own racial or ethnic community.
In 2017, state and local governments spent $115 billion on police (4 percent of state and local direct general expenditures), $79 billion on corrections (3 percent), and $48 billion on courts (2 percent). Under this new bill, law enforcement will receive grants to aid the coalition in battling hate crimes in the police department.
With more money to carry out the responsibilities of the law enforcement — an institution built off the oppression of racial minorities — we must rethink what purpose the funding of the police to tackle hate crimes serves. If the promised protection of Asian lives will only put Black, Indigenous, Latinx, etc., lives at risk of over-policing and brutality, is this truly BIPOC liberation?
White supremacy works to pit racial minorities against one another and maintain this hostility to further its oppression. Allocating more funds to an institution that harms Black people at disproportionate rates in the name of protecting Asian lives is counterproductive; the so-promised liberation and protection of one racial group at the expense of another is merely one step forward, two steps back. There is no Asian liberation without the liberation of the communities whose fights for freedom are intertwined with our own — the Latinx, Native American, and Black communities, who have all been systemically pushed down and silenced by white supremacy and institutions that benefit from white supremacy — like the police force in the United States.
These organizations gave the statement also argue the inconsequential goals of the hate crime bill by comparing it to another: “In 2009, the Matthew Shepard Act expanded federal hate crime categories to include sexual orientation and gender identity, yet deadly anti-trans violence continues to occur at alarming rates year after year, most impacting Black trans women and femmes.”
A pattern one can point out is the trend of superficiality and shallowness of this country in addressing the root of problems marginalized communities face. A statement of commitment to shutting down anti-Asian hate is merely a little affirmation when it comes from an institution that has done little to protect marginalized communities thus far. Only acknowledging and recording hate crimes, a process the bill particularly stresses, does nothing to tackle what hate crimes originate.
At the “Housing not cops” rally in LA to demand justice for those displaced from their homes in Echo Park, Nara Kim, an organizer from Ktown for Black Lives, said, “The cops have never been there to support us. Don’t give us bullsh*t solutions like getting Korean officers to Koreatown. Just cause you f*cking look like me and speak Korean doesn’t make it mean you will keep our Halmoni safe!”
Employing more police and giving law enforcement more power is a surface-level solution to a layered, multi-dimensional problem. Anti-Asian hate stems from colonization, the violent force used on communities since imperialism, and the infiltration of white supremacy. It is fueled by xenophobia and racism, propaganda used by the United States throughout history, and the offensive, misleading depictions of the Asian community in pop culture that dominates mainstream society and mobilizes public perception. It is the “lotus blossom,” the “dragon lady,” and the sexualized school girl that endangers our Asian women and femmes.
Transgender men and women are especially vulnerable to murder and violence that often goes unreported or cold cases (The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson delve into this). According to NCTE, “transgender people who have done sex work or participated in underground economies often report elevated levels of police violence—this includes 16% of all trans people, 34% of Latino/a trans people, and 53% of Black trans people. Trans people, who have done street economy work, are more than twice as likely to report physical assaults by police officers and four times as likely to report sexual assault by police.”
Advocating for law enforcement will only put transgender people at more risk for violence, particularly trans people of color, not to mention the intersectionality of identity that we see in many communities. Black trans women and femmes, especially, are disproportionately vulnerable to police brutality and daily street or domestic harassment.
It is clear that battling anti-Asian hate does not call for more law enforcement, given this institution has proved time again that it is not equipped to protect the people. Fighting anti-Asian hate means pushing initiatives that protect Asian lives and all marginalized groups: BIPOC, women/femmes, and the LGBTQ+ community — those under the oppression of white supremacy. Without considering the incredible diversity in the Asian community and the intertwined fights for liberation with the Black, Latinx, or LGBTQ+ communities, anti-Asian hate will never be addressed for what it is caused and maintained by.
The real solution to battling anti-Asian hate is investing in our communities, shifting and reallocating funding from law enforcement to public works projects and grassroots initiatives that work from the community and for the community. Solving violence cannot be reliant on only fines and punishment. Their statement advocates for “community alternatives may include investing in resources such as non-coercive mental healthcare infrastructures, neighborhood-based trauma centers, community food banks, and more.”
Shakeer, an organizer for Stop LAPD Spying, said, “LAPD’s $3.1 billion budget increased 48% since Eric Garcetti became mayor. Every one of those dollars can be spent on housing, on schools, on infrastructure that can keep us safe.”
We must reassert the Asian rhetoric in the United States, that we are not “foreign” or “other,” we will not be emasculated or fetishized, we are not your “Kung Flu” or your “Chinese virus.” We belong in this country and deserve respect and protection from real and productive initiatives that battle the roots of anti-Asian hate.
Empowering enforcement is not solidarity. Emboldening white supremacy is not solidarity. Asian identity cannot, and will not, be weaponized by white supremacy to silence and endanger other marginalized groups. Asian liberation must come with liberation for all.
Edited by Karina Fathani & Mahitha Mamilla