The Police and the Asian(American)
An Asian American police officer walks through New York's Chinatown during a parade. Photo taken by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis. Image Link
In recent decades, law enforcement and the United State’s criminal legal system has been under public scrutiny and criticism for its brutality, discriminatory policies, and prejudiced practices against communities of color. Although the victims of police discrimination are primarily black and brown people of color, the “Model Minority” also experiences prejudice within and outside the system.
"Model Minority" refers to a minority group that achieves more success than other minority communities and typically refers to Asians in America. Under the "Model Minority" stereotype, Asian's are high achievers in education, in the upper socioeconomic bracket, polite and submissive, and abide by the law. In particular, the stereotype that Asians are submissive and lack criminality has led to an assumption that all Asians are supportive and trusting of police. For example, a police career is somewhat reputable and respectable and one that Asian families may aspire to. Additionally, in response to the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes in the past couple of years, some activists have called for higher police presence in Chinatowns or other highly Asian areas.
A Japanese American girl and musician stand in front of the American flag about to perform in an internment camp. Image Link
However, the idea of the Model Minority is a stereotype that continually obscures the racism and discrimination that the Asian community has and continues to face in America. The model minority myth suggests that Asian’s have always been a welcomed community in the U.S. despite the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps, which worked to exclude the “Yellow Peril” and violated many Asian Americans rights as U.S. citizens. Additionally, tending to abide by the law does not signify that the Asian community will blindly trust the police. In fact, many of these Asian immigrants came to America to escape the dictatorships in their home countries, leading to them being more distrustful of law enforcement and government.
Furthermore, law enforcement has also tended to discriminate against the Asian community. For example, South Asians are profiled and must endure extensive police searches and surveillance under the guise of national security. Additionally, in California, there are task forces that dismantle Asian Youth Gangs (whose members are often low-income, Southeast Asian, and suffering from trauma) by arresting members instead of providing assistance. Rather than assisting these communities, the police decide to use their powers to oppress and violate these communities.
Police restraining a Chinese-American protester who wants justice for the Asian community and Peter Yew. Image Link
Another example is the Beating of Peter Yew on May 19, 1975. Peter Yew was an architect who was attempting to intervene in the policing beating of a teenager. Ultimately, the police arrested him and beat him severely. Yew’s beating combined with the decades of police discrimination and brutality caused New York Chinatown residents to rally and protest against police treatment.
Asians also struggle for equality within law enforcement. First, Asians also face discrimination within law enforcement. For example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey systematically discriminated against Asians, refusing or seldom promoting them. Additionally, in 2017, Asian officers in the San Gabriel police department filed a lawsuit due to other officers continually using targeted racist slang and slur around them.
Graph from Axios.com depicting the U.S. Police officers by race and ethnicity.
Furthermore, Asians are underrepresented in law enforcement. Previously, individuals below 5’8’’ were once barred from becoming police officers. That policy significantly reduced the amount of Asians who could apply as they are typically shorter. As one retired officer explained, there are so few Asian officers the public would refuse to listen or be arrested by them. Although that height policy has been removed and the amount of Asians in law enforcement has grown, they still only make up 2% of all police officers in the nation. As this article explains, the consequences of such underrepresentation are far-reaching and list three main reasons a lack of representation may cause issues:
Unwillingness to report crime
Language barriers (especially among first-generation immigrants)
Lack of cultural understanding or bias amongst the officers
Police officers and Asian storekeeper engaged in conversation. Image Link.
Ultimately, the Asian demographic in America’s relationship with law enforcement continues to develop and evolve. In light of the rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes, Asian communities are debating how to protect the communities. Some call for maintaining the status quo “Model Minority” response of increasing police presence, while others want internal community-based patrols as they don’t believe police will be able to help their case.
Activists at a rally to stop Asian hate are holding up a banner in Chinese which says: "The police cannot protect us. We must protect and help each other." Image Link