“I remember it wasn’t firecrackers… it was the sound of gunfire. And I remember seeing the blood everywhere on these kids. I remember seeing my cousin… gunned down.”
“It was the first moment I was reminded of the refugee camps where I grew up,” said Peejay, looking into the audience.
“The soldiers and the bandits,” he shook his head remembering the violence in the camps, “[It was] something I left behind, something my family left behind.”
Borey Ai, also known as Peejay, has faced violence and discrimination from an early age. Fleeing war-torn Cambodia during the Vietnam War, the Ai family escaped to America as refugees. Upon their arrival in Stockton, California, however, Peejay struggled — as many Southeast Asian refugees did — in the face of racism, xenophobia, and local hate crimes. At the age of 14, Peejay was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder. Immediately after his release, Peejay arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deportation proceedings were started against him. Now, Peejay faces the threat of deportation to a country he doesn’t know, even as Peejay is hoping his story will bring new awareness to the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline. With initiatives led by Nathaniel Tan and the Asian Prisoners Support Committee, the #BringPJHome and #KeepPJHome movements were born.
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.