Young Asian Americans hit the streets to link arms supporting Black Lives Matter
June 26, 2020
Following more than two weeks of uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, protestors gathered in New York City’s Washington Square Park on Saturday, June 13 for the Asians For Black Lives March NYC. The march, which drew a multiracial crowd, was described on Facebook as an opportunity to “march side by side with our Black brothers and sisters” and to “bridge the divide” between two communities that have historically fought alongside each other.
The protest itself was not without controversy: some activists criticized the organizer, the actor William Lex Ham, because he was vocally backing Steve Lee, an NYPD sergeant who was running for State Assembly against current Assemblyman Ron Kim. They also objected to several of Lee’s positions and criticized Ham for not expressing support for prison abolition. Ballots from the June 23 race are still being counted, but Kim is in the lead by a long shot.
Ham argued there was nothing conflicting about his support for Lee and his support for Black Lives Matter. He also said he personally supported reducing the funding for police departments along with other demands enumerated in the Black Lives Matter Greater New York Blueprint and was open to discussion.
Most protestors were not aware of these behind-the-scenes organizing dynamics, but they do shed light on questions Asian Americans may have to grapple with in the months ahead.
I spoke with some of those in attendance about why they had come and how they regarded this moment of history. This photo essay seeks to capture some of their passion and hope.
“We just really loved the showing of community outreach, and just community coming together and supporting each other during this hard time as we try to disband or essentially combat the state-sanctioned violence that’s been going on at the hands of the police in our communities and in Black and Brown communities across the country…
Hopefully these protests continue until we find justice for our communities, and we’re able to defund and delegitimize these terrorist organizations that we call the police….I think it’s actually pretty cool, the showing of solidarity, since it’s like both Black and Asian leaders, it’s a really cool way to just combine our struggle and show unity …..But there are also Black Asians…so that’s just something to consider.”
“Defund the police… stop giving them billions of dollars when our children can’t eat in schools and our hospitals are closing down. I think it means start to abolish and start looking for other answers and other solutions for the crime and injustices that these communities face on the daily.”
“This is the first march I’ve been to since everything started…The Asian American community … can’t stand by and benefit from the things that have happened on the backs of other people. And especially being Filipino American, and we’re from California originally, it used to be ‘no Blacks, no Filipinos, no dogs.’ So we’re a part of this history; we were a part of the problem, we got to be part of this solution….”
“The Filipino American community has a large affinity [with] the Black community, because a lot of our culture is wrapped up in Black culture and then, on top of that, when you go to the Philippines, there are people of different colors as well, different melanins … [However] in the Filipino community, it is ‘the lighter you are, the better you are,’ so it’s a real problem in the Filipino community, the racism within … We’ve got to stop looking at each other and drawing these lines.”
“Personally, I think defunding the police and giving a lot to communities of color is the first, and massive step, because we have got to redo our entire structure; our entire structure needs to be rethought of for the people.”
“I actually just came from one on 125th where Eric Garner’s mom signed the bill. I’ve been to a couple more. I love it, it’s beautiful. You can tell that this is a different atmosphere, it’s different. I went to a lot of protests before, anti-war—this is different.”
“I think one of the best things could be for money to be taken away from the police department and then given to the schools and to Black and Brown communities; hospitals, the city hospitals, and just to fix up the community, and just have places where people can go to learn, after school programs and just different things. If money can be allocated to communities that are poor…”
“…The fact that this one is led by the Asian community is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”
“My parents are from Bangladesh but I was born and raised here…Growing up post-911, obviously we never faced the [patent racism] that African Americans faced, but we experienced our own form of racism, and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Civil Rights movements that Black people led in the 60s. So there’s so many things that connect us to what’s going on right now…”
Her friend, Rama:
“I’m African, I was born here, so I’m technically African American but not a Black American, but I’m Muslim and there’s a lot of Asian places that have a large Muslim population, so I definitely feel like I belong here today…”
“All lanes of resistance are valid. We need everything—we need the artists, we need the dancers, we need the people who are ready to set up an autonomous zone—I’m jealous! We need everything, because this is not something that is just going to all of a sudden solve itself. I obviously believe strongly in more things, where I don’t think the police system can be reformed. It’s been illegal in New York to do chokeholds since 1993, but ‘who cares about cops that don’t follow the laws!’—like, what’s the point of more laws? So all lanes are valid, some are more useful than others.”
Sherman: (far left):
“So far it’s really good. I think the engagement is very high, I think it’s great that they’re rallying right before marching, because now everyone knows what to say, and it sounds really cohesive and very peaceful as well. I’m thinking it’s a very positive energy here…I’ve been to a couple the last couple of weeks.”
“I’d say listen to what everyone’s saying: defund police. Allocate those funds to more positive avenues. I would say justice for those impacted by unjustified killings in Black America, and just to level this playing field…I think that the Asian population and the Black community don’t commingle very much and I’d like to see that happen more, for Asian and Asian Americans to voice, and use their platform to speak out for the Black community and the injustices that happen there.
I think that we just need to be more united.”