Two days ago, police shot and killed another Black man — the latest victim in an epidemic of state-sanctioned gun violence against Black bodies that has already claimed 136 Black lives in 2016. Philando Castile, 32, was driving in a car with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter when their car was pulled over by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for a broken tail light. Castile, who was licensed to conceal-and-carry, notified the officer that he was armed and that he was reaching for his wallet to retrieve his ID and registration, as per the cop’s instructions. He did everything that young Black boys are taught to do in the Talk. The officer fired four shots anyways, killing Castile before his horrified family — all over a burned out light bulb.
National attention is focused today on Minnesota as we mourn Castile’s death. Unlike the vast majority of Black and Brown men shot and killed by police every day — whose deaths receive scant attention or outrage — we cannot help but be confronted by the pain of Castile’s murder. Just minutes after the still unnamed police officer shot and killed Castile, Reynolds began streaming the killing’s aftermath live on Facebook. An understandably distraught Reynolds broadcast the full trauma of a racialized police encounter turned deadly, using her video to pray, ask for help, and to record important details about the incident.
One important detail is Reynolds’ description of the police officer who killed Castile. Recounted from the backseat of a police cruiser while she was still handcuffed, Reynolds narrated in her video that the police officer who killed Philando Castile was a “heavyset” “Chinese” man. That officer was later identified as Jeronimo Yanez, whose race and ethnicity has not been revealed.
Frankly, I don’t think it matters if Castile’s killer was non-White, or if he is indeed Asian American. Black lives matter. Black lives matter when a White police officer shoots and kills Alton Sterling on Tuesday for selling CDs in a parking lot, and Black lives matter when a non-White police officer shoots and kills Philando Castile on Wednesday. Black lives matter regardless of the race of the person who takes them. Hours after Castile’s death, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton confirmed that race played a role in the shooting, saying that Castile likely would not be dead were he White.
The deaths of Philando Castile and of Alton Sterling — killed less than 24 hours earlier by police for selling CDs in a parking lot — demonstrates the value that society still fails to place on Black lives. Asian Americans cannot afford to be bystanders in this fight, because this is our fight, too. All of America stands at a crossroads, staring down a quintessential moral choice: what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we choose a society where the lives of Black and Brown people — including Black and Brown Asian Americans — has value? Or, do we continue to uphold a system that places no value in the lives of non-White people, including our own; and wherein only some can place their trust in our law enforcement?
What side will we choose?
It should come as no surprise that the progressive expansion of America’s non-White populations has left the Grand Old Party in a turmoil. In both 2008 and 2012, Republicans lost the Black, Latino, and Asian votes by wide margins, and most demographic projections predict that in the aggregate, non-White people will outnumber Whites in America by the year 2042 or sooner. Thus, the GOP is in a scramble to develop a loyal non-White voting block in the next decade in order to retain their political power over Democrats.
For many conservatives, the voting block most vulnerable to partisan Republican appeals is the Asian American community. Rooting their hopes largely on model minority stereotypes of Asian Americans, conservatives like Bill O’Reilly view Asian Americans as “not liberal… by nature” because we are “industrious and hard-working”.
To be fair, AAPI are less likely to identify as either Democrat or Republican, with a large segment of our voters preferring to register with an “independent” party affiliation. And certainly, with some Asian American ethnic groups well-represented as small business owners and in the upper echelons of the private sector, the GOP’s conventional pro-business platform should be appealing. Indeed, in the early 1990’s, Asian Americans were evenly split between those who voted George H.W. Bush and his Democratic opponent. Yet, 25 years later, between two-thirds and three-quarters of Asian voters voted with the Democratic party in the last two general elections.
The rate of new HIV diagnoses is high within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community: one of the few racial or ethnic communities for which HIV rates were on the rise in the last decade. Yet, only 1 in every 3 AAPIs know their HIV status: which means our community has the lowest rate of HIV testing of any group. In one survey, 90% of AAPI Seattle survey respondents identified themselves to be engaging in behaviour that might put them at-risk of HIV contraction, yet only 47% had been tested.
Part of what creates this low testing rate has to do with barriers of inaccess to HIV tests. Many AAPI lack healthcare coverage — which is why the Affordable Care Act was important for our community — and linguistic and cultural barriers further hinder regular check-ups. Even AAPI who regularly visit a healthcare provider might still encounter difficulties accessing tests: only 17% of AAPI women, for example, are ever offered an HIV test by their OB/GYN, which is the lowest rate for women of any race.
Consequently, AAPI receive their HIV-positive diagnoses later after their infection than patients of any other race. 44% of AAPI are diagnosed 1-year after their infection (vs. 37% of White patients); this delay in diagnosis also delays the start of treatment. In parts of California, new HIV diagnoses among local AAPI populations are 4x the national rate.
These statistics demand that our community do more to improve access for AAPIs to simple and effective HIV diagnosis tests that can help educate and empower members of our community with their HIV status.
That’s exactly what APAIT — the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team — hopes to do, and they are asking for your help.