Austin Whang was entering the subway station in Flushing, Queens, New York, when the two Chinese men he was travelling with were stopped by police officers for allegedly failing to pay their subway fare. Whang, a 50-year old Chinese immigrant, offered to help translate. Police officers responded to his offer by handcuffing him and issuing him a summons for disorderly conduct. Mr. Whang was left handcuffed in the subway station for an hour.
Police brutality and misconduct are often viewed as an issue affecting predominately African Americans and Latinos, and the most publicized incidents involve shootings, beatings and death. Eight years ago, we watched the gruesome videotape of Rodney King being bludgeoned and beaten by four Los Angeles police officers. More recently, our nation was riveted by the brutal stationhouse beating of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in Brooklyn, New York in 1997, and the tragic shooting death of African immigrant Amadou Diallo in the Bronx.
There have also been Asian American fatalities. In 1995, Yong Xin Huang, a Chinese American teenager, was fatally shot in the back of the head by a police officer in Brooklyn, New York, who was never prosecuted on any state or federal charges. In 1997, Kuanchung Kao, a Chinese American father of three, was shot to death by police officers in the front yard of his northern California home. The officers claimed that they fired their weapons because they feared Mr. Kao was a martial arts expert. The officers were never charged in Mr. Kao's death.
Over the past two decades, these has been a steady increase in police violence against Asian Americans. A growing number of incidents occur in predominantly immigrant and minority communities. Most of these incidents do not lead to shootings or death, but in each, as in the case of Austin Whang, the victims are left with physical and emotional scars, as well as violations of their civil rights. Many of the incidents involve Asian immigrant small business owners, such as Korean green grocers, street vendors or taxi and livery drivers.
As a result of the Amadou Diallo shooting death, the issue of police brutality has become one of national concern, with a growing movement across the country seeking greater police accountability. It is imperative that Asian Americans join this national call. Click here to find out how you can get involved with the national effort to end police misconduct.