Fil-Ams speak out on police violence and racial injustice
WASHINGTON, DC — Against the backdrop of a pandemic. that has cost millions of U.S. jobs and killed more than 113,000 people who are disproportionately poor and black and Latino, protests have been erupting for days across the nation, triggered by the police killing in Minneapolis of .George Floyd, an unarmed a46-year-old African American father of a six-year-old child.
On May 25, a white police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and left it there until the man died. The officer was later fired, arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers were also charged with being complicit.
The video of the incident went viral and sparked widespread visceral outrage. But what fueled days of largely peaceful protests and a few acts of violence was more than just Floyd’s death, or the way he died. It’s the many other black lives being taken away simply because to white cops, black lives don’t matter.
Their names have been invoked to give them a human face: Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. The rallying cry, “I can’t breathe!” – uttered by Garner and Floyd as they gasped for air – has become a powerful symbol of black oppression and their plea to be treated equally like other human beings.
Thus, in a single moment, what the world saw was not just a black man killed by a white cop but America’s entire racial history culminating into one painful moment.
According to an organization called Mapping Police Violence, in 2015 police killed 104 unarmed black people. Of those, only 13 of those cases resulted in charges being filed. Four of those cases ended in a mistrial or dropped charges.
“White supremacists no longer have to drag black people out of their homes in the dark of night, take them into the backwoods and hang them in a tree,” says Aida Hulen of Frederick, MD. “Today, a white man, clad in police uniform, in broad daylight, in main street America, showed the whole world his total disregard for a black man’s life.”
Maryland Delegate Kris Valderrama-Lobo (D) expressed the same revulsion that “in this day and age, we are still dealing with this kind of bigotry and racism.” It was “difficult to watch, let alone justify, the senseless act of killing a handcuffed African-American man,” adds civil rights leader Irene Natividad of Washington, D.C. “But what angers many people even more is that this death follows a string of other men killed solely on the basis of behavioral assumptions that go with black skin.”
Other community leaders, while horrified by Floyd’s killing, saw it mainly, however, as an isolated act committed by bad cops. “Floyd’s death is a grave tragedy that should never have happened,” says Vellie Dietrich-Hall of Cullen, VA., Advisor and Founding Member of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia (FARV). “Not all policemen though are despicable as this one who ended the life of Floyd. Despite what these few bad cops have done, I still would encourage everyone to support the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers who keep us safe while risking their own lives every day.”
She adds: “We need to work toward a more just society, that means building up not tearing down; joining hands not hurling fists; standing in solidarity and not surrendering to hostility.”
But the voices on the streets demanded more than just justice for Floyd, or law enforcement reforms. “We need fundamental changes to a racist system that treats blacks and people of color unfairly,” said Rodney Salinas, 45, of Alexandria, VA. He was among the protesters in front of the White House. “I’m proud to add my voice as a Filipino American to a peaceful demonstration of people from all backgrounds and races.”
Rodney Salinas took this photo while protesting in front of the White House.
Salinas says he has two teen-aged kids who have been raising questions about what’s happening. “We need to have this conversation with our children, for their sake and for their future,” he said.
That same Sunday, 18-year-old Sarah Menchavez and her younger sister Chloe, participated in a silent march around the block in downtown Leesburg, VA. where they live. A recent high school graduate, Menchavez went to the march “with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery still fresh on my mind.” She said their killing is about “white privilege” and felt the need to speak out and confront this issue.
Her parents, Melissa and Chel Menchavez, were at the march as well. “We are proud of our daughters for wanting to engage with the harsh and uncomfortable realities of our country,” he said. “And it was very emotional for us to be there together to see what I know will be the spark for real and lasting change. I’ve never been a social justice warrior and it’s Sarah who took the initiative for us to go.”
One of those “uncomfortable realities” is “white privilege.” Anita Merina of Washington DC, who had worked at the National Education Association, says
“White privilege takes many forms, one of which is that white parents don’t have to teach their kids what to do if the police stop them, because white parents don’t have to worry about their kids being murdered by the police like black parents do. And white 15-year-olds don’t feel the need to talk among themselves like black teens apparently do about how to keep from dying at the hands of the police. It’s a system stacked against blacks because of the color or their skin.”
Injustice to black Americans prompted Richard Villa Mercado, 58, to join the White House rally, on the day peaceful protesters were violently dispersed with tear gas by federal law officers to make way for Trump’s photo op. He went to the Capitol the next day, where protestors chanted “Don’t Shoot,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace.” A DC resident since 1986, Mercado says, “As a Filipino American who can relate to the struggles of black Americans, it’s important that we show up and be united.”
That same weekend, more than twenty Filipino American activists from BAYAN DMV, GABRIELA DC, Kabataan Alliance and Migrante DC joined protest caravans around the city. Joining the group is Janeva Duran, a recent immigrant from the Philippines. “For someone who just arrived in the States and is aware of the injustices here, it’s our social responsibility to stand in solidarity with the black community,” she said. “I recognize that the issue of police brutality and militarization is happening here and also back in my home country.”
“This is the time for tough conversations and realizations,” says Jamie L. Garcia, 30, of Washington DC. “Sharing powerful messages and images of encouragement and advocacy to those who already believe ‘Black Lives Matter’ isn’t enough. I will continue to protest, do actions, sign petitions, and donate. Especially in the Filipino community, we must have these conversations and fight together against anti-black mentality and show that we are allies.”
Having married to two black men, MaryLou Jackson, 64, of Silver Spring, MD. says “I see the pain firsthand. The scars do not heal, because when something like this happens, the wound reopens. I have to struggle talking with my son about prejudice in today’s society. We in the Filipino-American community should teach our children not to judge friends, neighbors, colleagues because of color. They, too, are like us.”
The issue of Filipino racial bias “has been a part of our community’s experience that I’ve struggled with growing up,” recalls Marielle Mariano, a school teacher in Arlington, VA. “Inside I knew it was wrong and it confused me when I was young because I had some relatives and friends of family with the same prejudices but was taught in church to love thy neighbor.”
Indeed, says Mencie Hairston of Bowie, MD., “these conversations are hard but can be done with love and empathy. We can’t leave them behind. We need to bring them along in this journey.”
Minerva Rosenthal, a social worker in Frederick, Md. says she has “memories of bleaching my skin to have the ‘white’ look. I had many friends who did the same. Unfortunately, it’s a ritual which continues to this day. We bought into this oppressive technique (by white colonizers), of disowning our humanity and we embraced it as our own reality. It became a lens with which we see the world and fellow human beings. It may have seemed harmless then but when forced out of it’s toxic camouflage, it can be deadly, as we witness it being played out today. Sadly, our colonial history parallels the plantation experience.”
Adds Artist and Journalist Wilma Consul of Washington DC: “Anyone who comes from the Philippines must know the pain and anger black people feel from years of oppression and slavery. Filipinos in America were called monkeys. Like dogs, we were not allowed in certain places. The Navy men stayed in the ships to cook and clean while the Americans had their days off. We, too, were strange fruits hanging on trees.”
‘No vaccine for racism’
The urgency of being part of the solution is raised by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), son of a Filipino World War II veteran, who has led a national effort to restore dignity and honor to veterans who have been humiliated by the racially-motivated Rescission Acts of 1946. “We cannot wait another century for racism with violence and hate, division between and within people of this country to go away,” he says. “The United in the United States of America will still be an aspiration rather without reality. It starts with us at home. I’ve become more open minded since I came here in 1961. Now I’m worried how my children and grandkids will experience life in the future. A blended family like mine is an answer but not universal. People have the right to live humanely, with respect and equity, and be free.”
Noting that the country right now is reeling from the impact of the coronavirus while racism rears its ugly head, Irene Natividadis cautiously optimistic:
“At some point, there will be a vaccine for the corona virus, and some people, if not all, will return to work. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for racism. There are no short-term solutions for what took decades to embed in cultural attitudes.
“But change will happen only if each and every one of us sees the human being that lies underneath all colors of skin and different contours of eyes and faces. Change happens when all of us make that special effort, because it is an effort. All of us harbor prejudices handed down to us through the ages, so embracing and accepting diverse people requires work.”
During the early days of protest actions in Washington DC following Floyd’s death on May 25, more than 20 Filipino American activists and allies representing various community and grassroots organizations mobilized to join the demonstrations, including a protest caravan around the city.
“It is crucial to build solidarity and work towards genuine systemic change, change that can address the fundamental causes of racial violence and police brutality. I hope that FilAms continue to stand on the right side of history,” said Chrissi Fabro of Kabataan Alliance. “I hope that FilAms continue to engage in productive discussions about anti-blackness and what genuine solidarity is like.”
“This fascist government gives police state impunity not only to monitor and harass, but to actively murder and kill all elements deemed as threats to security”, added Jo Quiambao of GABRIELA Washington DC.
The activists also linked the events here to what’s happening in the Philippines. “In the US, we’re seeing it in the form of police brutality and racial profiling among Black and Brown folks. In the Philippines, we’re seeing it in the form of the Anti-Terror Bill and the $2 billion arms deal. Both of these perpetuate state violence against activists, human rights defenders and indigenous communities,” said Jay Cleofe of Anakbayan Washington, DC.
BAYAN USA coordinator in the DMV region, Jhong Delacruz, added, “In the face of COVID-19 and police brutality, and against a system that values profit and property over lives, both here in the US and back home in the Philippines, we will continue to fight. In the wake of this deplorable rise in police-killings and of this historic caravan protest, we will continue to breathe.”