By Guest Contributor: Cynthia Wu
I first became aware of Minnesota’s outlier status when I lived there between 2002 and 2006. The Twin Cities are vibrant havens for Native American life. Black heterogeneity invites East Africans and African Americans to commune and code-switch across their differences. The infamous anti-communism among Southeast Asians is absent; refugees of the Vietnam War vote for and run for office as Democrats. Minnesota was the lone dissenting voice to back Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, when Ronald Reagan was swept into the White House following ballot box victories across America’s other 49 states.. Throughout much of America’s history, Minnesota has stood valiantly, if understatedly, in opposition to much of the rest of the country.
I lived in St. Paul, a half block away from either the right or the wrong side of a gentrification line, depending on how one sees it. Three buildings away, a poorly maintained apartment complex crumbled from neglect by its slumlord owner. An equal distance in the opposite direction stood a house that debuted the market with an asking price of over half a million. Just north, one might find an overpass for Interstate 94, which runs through the bowels of the old Rondo neighborhood. Every year, the predominantly African American former residents of Rondo host a festival to remember their beloved space, and to lament its destruction in the 1960s to make way for an increasingly automobile-centered society. Many of them were (and still are) reliant on public transport, yet they lost their homes to make way for our cars. In this and other aspects, Minnesota is typical—its inequities are congruent with those of the country at large.
On July 6, Officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled Philando Castile over during a traffic stop just five miles away from Rondo, in the nearby suburb of Falcon Heights. He had a broken taillight. When Castile reached to present his ID, Yanez panicked and fired five shots into his body in front of his panicked girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. Castile died shortly thereafter in hospital.
The fact that Castile was African American is significant. Numerous studies, historic narratives and contemporary accounts testify to the existence of police aggression targeted at black people — an unbroken thread stretching from slavery to emancipation to the present day. That Yanez—whom Castile’s companion described as “Chinese” in the video she live-streamed of his killing—is phenotypically Asian is also significant. Days after Castile’s death, Yanez’s name and race – he is Latinx – were revealed to the public. Nonetheless, the questions surrounding race and solidarity between Black and non-Black people of color as raised by Philando Castile’s fatal shooting and its aftermath need some parsing.
After a second trial ended in a mistrial due to jury deadlock late last year, a judge has now granted a motion of acquittal filed by defense attorneys to dismiss the case against Alabama police officer Eric Parker, who stood accused of using excessive force in his arrest of an elderly Indian grandfather in February of last year. Prosecutors had been seeking a third trial against the police officer.
Sureshbhai Patel, who was 57 at the time of the attack and who had just arrived in the United States to help care for his infant grandchild, was walking in the early morning of February 6, 2015, when he was approached by two police officers including Officer Parker. Police were responding to a call of a suspicious “skinny Black guy” in the area. Patel, who doesn’t speak much English, was detained and being handcuffed when dashcam video (after the jump) shows Parker suddenly slamming an otherwise cooperative and non-violent Patel to the pavement. The injury left the elderly man permanently paralyzed and reliant on a walker for mobility.
In a story that has received scant mainstream attention, a Hawaiian man was savagely beaten by a Honolulu Police Department officer in 2014 for offering a prayer to a monk seal; the entire (apparently unprovoked) assault was captured on cellphone video by a bystander.
On September 10, 2014, 41-year-old Jamie Kalani Rice was walking on Honolulu’s Nanakuli Beach when he came across a monk seal lying on the beach in apparent distress. Rice, who is Native Hawaiian, knelt several feet from the monk seal and began a prayer ritual which he later said was to offer the seal some of his mana; the ritual included chanting and rubbing himself with sand. Video shot by witnesses show that this ritual continued for several minutes, and Rice was seen occasionally lightly throwing small handfuls of sand at the seal to urge it back into the water; the seal only reacts at one point to the sand (minute 4:20 mark in the video, after the jump), but mostly appears non-responsive. Monk seals are a protected species, and Nanakuli Beach has signs warning visitors not to disturb these animals if they are encountered.
I just can’t even right now.
A mistrial has once again been declared in the excessive force trial of Alabama police officer Eric Parker, who was caught on dashcam video in February violently slamming 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel to the ground during a routine pedestrian stop. Parker testified that Patel posed a dangerous threat to the officer, but video appeared to show Patel motionless and compliant in the moments prior to the brutal tackle that left the elderly grandfather partially paralyzed.
A first trial against Parker ended in a mistrial in September after 10 male (and non-Black) jurists voted to acquit; the jury’s sole Black female members sided with Patel. For retrial, Parker’s attorneys elected to go with a “full xenophobia” defense strategy: in opening arguments presented last month, they blamed Patel’s limited English proficiency and his non-citizen status for his assault.
An unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer. I repeat: an unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer.
Last week, 16-year-old Shakara — a student at Spring Valley High School — was seen on cellphone video being thrown to the floor of her math classroom by South Carolina Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields. Cellphone video shows that Shakara was seated at her desk and making no sudden moves immediately prior to the violent assault where Fields grabbed Shakara from behind by her neck, and flipped her over so suddenly that the desk she was seated in overturned with her, and then bodily drags her out of the tangle of plastic and metal to lie prone on the classroom floor (video embedded after the jump). Already, social justice activists have rightfully identified the incident as yet another example of excessive police force targeting a Black body for unnecessary and unprovoked violence.
Already, too, however, a chorus of naysayers have also chimed in. “Hold up,” they say, “we haven’t seen the ‘rest’ of the video.”
“We don’t know,” they say, “what Shakara did to provoke the attack.”
There is nothing a seated, unarmed, and non-violent teenager could do that would justify this kind of brutal assault.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!