The past two years were significant in sparking conversations about what race and equity looks like in American society. Spring 2021 appeared to be a particularly historical moment when Black and Asian American activists came together and expressed a desire to support each other.
In the wake of an Atlanta-based shooting where six Asian women were gunned down and killed, Black civil rights activists and organizations rallied around in support of the Asian American community. Even in 2020, with the riots invoked after George Floyd’s death, organizations like the Asian American Advocacy Fund provided ‘Asian Americans for Black Lives’ resources to the public.
The two groups, which historically have been divided by racial tensions and socioeconomic inequality, promised to cooperate to reduce violence and discrimination against people of color.
But within nine months of these promises, activists say unity efforts are rapidly fading.
In November, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff revealed plans to backtrack from the “Defund the Police” Movement. KRON4 reported that the city has seen over 120 homicides—an increase from last year’s 106 deaths. The increase in hate crimes prompted Schaff to encourage city council to vote to add 60 more police officers.
The decision has been particularly divisive in Black-Asian solidarity efforts.
“What’s terrifying about this is as Oakland goes, so goes the country,” Cat Brooks, co-founder of Oakland’s Anti Police-Terror Project, told KTLA5. Brooks urged the council to vote down increased police staffing and added, “If we allow it to be demolished here, we are giving fuel for faux progressives and right-wing folks to destroy the movement across the country.”
According to the FBI, hate crimes against Asian people rose 73%. As a result, Asian leaders have called increased policing crucial to preventing such attacks.
“There’s more criticism and more skepticism about the police among Black people than Asian Americans,” said Claire Jean Kim, a professor of political science and Asian American studies at the University of California, Irvine. Often, she told The New York Times, Asian Americans see the police “as protectors of private property rather than instruments of social control.”
Black and Asian American communities have had a historically complicated relationship. In the 1960s, the Black Panthers and the Red Guard Party collaborated to support San Francisco’s community of colors. But during the 1990s, the Rodney King riots revealed the racial tensions between the Black and Korean communities.
These uneasy relations stem from an inherent inequality, Kim told The New York Times. Because Asian people don’t trace their roots in America to slavery, she said, they are often compared with white people in socioeconomic status.
Consequently, Kim explained, it was difficult to find common ground. “What kind of forum would have conservative, affluent Chinese immigrants talking to Black activists from a poor urban area, saying, ‘We need to defund the police?’”
Policing is not the only issue. Within the AAPI community, activists struggle to agree on ways to address hate crimes, so working with Black people became less of a priority.
“Our problems are unique,” said Paul Mak, head of the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association. Mak supports heavier policing in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park district where reports of harassment against Asians peaked this spring. In June, when hordes of patrol cars camped out in the area for a week, no new reports came in, though the hate crimes re-emerged when the police left, he added.
The debate also plays out across generational lines, with younger activists of both races often viewing more policing as ineffective.
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