- Carolyn Lê
Black Lives Matter and Why it Matters to Vietnamese Americans
It’s not just a black people problem, a white people problem, or even a police problem. It’s an American problem. And that means it’s a Vietnamese American problem. It’s something that affects us all.
Police violence against black communities occurs so frequently that it feels normal. People think it’s normal, and that’s just how the system (and its goal to protect the peace and reduce crime) works. For many Americans, police brutality—unjustifiable police violence—is a myth because the job of law enforcement is almost always in connection to violence. Serving and protecting, and fighting and preventing crimes require violence. Most people assume that for the police to actually kill someone, that person must have been a dangerous criminal who probably deserved it. Innocent black men who died at the hands of law enforcement—such as 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell in 2013, 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher this past September, and 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott also in September—show otherwise.
Helicopter video shows Terence Crutcher with his hands up and slowly walking away while Tulsa
police officers follow with guns drawn. One officer shoots him. This video contains graphic violence.
By TULSA POLICE DEPARTMENT on Septemeber 19, 2016.
Ferrell was asking for help due to car trouble and was then shot by the police. Brown’s death and court case prompted the Justice Department to call for an overhaul of Ferguson’s criminal justice system, due to factors including prejudice and racial tension. Crutcher, who “look[ed] like a bad dude,” was accused of not cooperating with the police, though videos show otherwise. Scott was mentally ill and unarmed, and the police mistook him for another man they were looking for. In all of these cases, these men were considered threats and most were believed to be armed. All of these men were unarmed and posed no real threat. While others see law enforcement as heroes and protectors of the people, black civilians often do not due to their experiences. The reality for black people is that the police pose as a threat to black lives, not the other way around. A police officer on duty is always armed, while a black civilian is usually not. In 2016, the police have killed at least 1,080 people, many of whom were not dangerous, unarmed, and people of color.
Most Asian Americans, specifically Vietnamese Americans, are not exposed to the reality of racial injustice, prejudice, and violence that members of black communities face. For many Vietnamese Americans, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement is not a pressing issue—or not an issue at all—because they consider it distant and irrelevant to their experiences. Therefore, the general Vietnamese American community does not regard police brutality against black people as ‘their problem,’ but rather a black people problem or a police problem. Vietnamese Americans don’t see themselves as responsible for reducing unwarranted police violence against black lives or providing support to the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, the wider America, including Vietnamese Americans, finds the Black Lives Matter movement to be controversial in name because it apparently implies that only Black Lives Matter, when all lives matter and all lives are equal. However, due to the outcome of many court rulings, patterns show that black lives matter less in the eyes of the law. According to The Wall Street Journal, 12 police officers in 2015 were charged for deadly, on duty shootings, but none were convicted of murder or manslaughter. In 2016, several police officers have gone to trial but none received jail time. Within this pattern, it appears law enforcement involved in fatal shootings will not be held accountable for their actions and ultimately, their victims’ lives do not really matter.
Black Lives Matter centers the voices of those who are black because they are disproportionately ignored, criminalized, victimized, and killed. Black Lives Matter is a call for racial justice. It is a reaction to police brutality, and reaffirms that nothing justifies unwarranted violence against black lives. By considering the Black Lives Matter movement to be controversial in name shows the lack of support and inadvertently affirms the notion that black lives do not matter, not just in the eyes of the law, but to other races and ethnic groups as well.
How can we help others in our community understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of racial justice and police accountability? How can we show our willingness to support and amplify the movement? In July, a group of Asian Americans and Canadians started Letters for Black Lives to help youths engage in the conversation of Black Lives Matter with older generations. The letter is a call for solidarity, empathy, and understanding. Since then, the letter has been translated to many different languages. Find the Vietnamese version here and start a conversation with a member of your family or community.
Letters for Black Lives | Inaugural English Video
By LETTERS FOR BLACK LIVES on July 11, 2016.
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A San José native and a recent graduate from University of Santa Cruz with honors in Literature, Carolyn has a deep appreciation for Vietnamese American literature and the Vietnamese American community. She is excited to be a part of an organization such as Chopsticks Alley, one that celebrates Vietnamese American culture and encourages positive self-identification. Driven by her educational background in literary criticism, she seeks to empower those who are historically marginalized, underrepresented, and underserved through literature and writing. She is also a dog-lover and has been a professional Dog Training Instructor for over 7 years!
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