March 23rd, 2021
Thinking for Ourselves
As people in Minneapolis struggled with questions of jury selection, prejudiced judgments, and appropriate places for a trial for the killer of George Floyd, another young white man picked up a gun. He ultimately killed 8 people, six of them Asian-American women. His actions were explained by the local sheriff as the result of a bad day.
Violence, at the hands of the state, or among neighbors, is routine in America. Often it is inflicted on people of color by white men. Often it is deadly.
Over this past year, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand that we stop, take a long, hard look at who we have been, and who we want to become. This cry to look deeply at ourselves, at our history, and to affirm our capacity to change and become more human, has itself been met with violence. Sometimes deadly, against those who dare to question how much we have come to disregard life.
Those of us in Detroit have a special responsibility to speak out against the rising tide of violence against Asian Americans. We know this leads to death. We know this violence has a long history in the white settler colonial assault on this land. We have witnessed the results of rage.
In the spring of 1982 a young Chinese American, Vincent Chin was brutally beaten to death with a baseball bat wielded by two unemployed autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. On the night of his bachelor party, Chin was attacked by these men who accused him of taking their jobs. Vincent Chin died four days later and was buried on what would have been his wedding day.
The two men who killed him never spent any time in jail. In an agreement with prosecutors, both men ultimately plead guilty of manslaughter and were sentenced to three years of probation and fined $3000.
A year later, activists brought a federal civil rights trial against the killers. They were convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but this was later overturned. Their defense was simple. It was just a bar room brawl gone bad. They had a bad day.
The brutality of this killing and the protection of the murderers by the justice system sparked the Asian American movement in this country. As Frank Wu, former Detroiter and Dean of the Hastings College of Law, University of California wrote:
“The killing catalyzed political activity among Asian-Americans — whose numbers had steadily increased since the 1965 overhaul of immigration laws but who then represented only about 1.5 percent of the population — as never before. “Remember Vincent Chin” turned into a rallying cry; for the first time, Asian-Americans of every background angrily protested in cities across the country. For all that Asians had been through — racial exclusion, starting with a ban on Chinese migrant labor in 1882; the unconstitutional detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II; the legacy of America’s wars in the Philippines, Korea and Vietnam — no single episode involving an individual Asian-American had ever had such an effect before.”
Wu, writing in 2012, concluded his article on the importance of Vincent Chin with this observation, “History also teaches us that before Asian-Americans were seen as model minorities, we were also perpetual foreigners. Taken together, these perceptions can lead to resentment. And resentment can lead to hate.”
Resentment and hate are not natural, inevitable conditions. Violence in the defense of the state, or at the hands of neighbors, is a choice. Violence is the result how we understand ourselves, each other, our history, and who we want to become. We can and must acknowledge and turn away from violence, anywhere, anytime, for any reason. We can choose life. We are at a moment when the possibilities of radical transformation are not only possible, but essential, if we are to have a future.
(artwork by Jess X. Snow)
Huntington Woods Peace Group Invites You to Proclaim that Black Lives Matter
Monday Evenings, 5 – 6 p.m., starting April 5th
Throughout last year, as we were disturbed, outraged and heartbroken by the death of George Floyd and so many others who were the victims of racial injustice and police brutality, we, The Huntington Woods Peace Group, began our vigil every Monday on the corner of 11 Mile and Woodward, in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Week after week and month after month, with our handmade signs and our Black Lives Matter flag we stood, in our masks and socially distant, to proclaim our allegiance with the Black Lives Matter movement. And, what happened? The cars came by and honked, waved, put their thumbs up, and moved their lips to say thank you. Sometimes they even pulled over, parked their cars and joined us. Policeman, bus drivers & semi-truck drivers would honk to show their support as well.
And, when they drove by, and we were just arriving ourselves and had not even gotten our signs out, they would honk their horns. They counted on us to bear witness on their behalf.
When the weather got too cold, we took a break, but the American disease of racial injustice never seems to take a break. And the recent violent actions against Asian minorities expose, once again, the ugly side of prejudice and hatred in America.
But there is another side to America, and that is what we have seen. On Monday April 5 we will restart our vigil on the corner of 11 and Woodward from 5 to 6 p.m. We invite you to join us.
All you have to do is show up. Park your car in the lot behind the church, bring your sign or we will give you one.
We hope you will take up our invitation. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at 248-219-4385.
Linda Ashley, Co-Chairperson