Reflecting on 1992

Photo courtesy of David Longstreath / AP

We’ve been here before…a horrendous act of police brutality against a black man is caught on video sparking rage, protest, violence, and curfews.

We were here in 1992, working at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, as we were known then, in downtown Los Angeles. The events of the last week and a half have brought a sad sense of deja vu…and a realization that, as a society, we have not done much to address the systemic racism and societal inequities that continue to fester in our communities and have again exploded around us.

In the aftermath of the 1992 LA Civil Unrest, we were on the front lines working to strengthen race relations whose tensions were laid bare in the midst of the violence. We partnered with the African American and other ethnic communities and allies to create system changes, fight against racism, and heal our communities. Together, we helped to develop governmental policy changes directed to stop police brutality and increase accountability. We saw the creation of new policy training initiatives and citizen police oversight commissions.

These were the kinds of things that were supposed to end the killings. It clearly wasn’t enough.

George Floyd is just the most recent victim of ongoing police brutality against Black Americans.

But this moment feels different. While the rage is the same, the movement is bigger. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has confined all of us to our homes, millions of people across the county (and in other parts of the world) have taken to the streets to demand change. They knowingly put their health at risk because the need for justice is even more compelling. This is a long term fight but we are at a watershed moment.

With a new generation of advocates at the center, our agenda must be bolder and much more comprehensive. Now as we work together to find our way forward, at Advancing Justice-LA, we start by calling for the following:

Accountability — There can be no justice without accountability. All four of the police officers who were involved in the murder of George Floyd must be prosecuted. We were saddened to see someone from our own AANHPI community stand aside to protect this violence. It reminds us that we have much to do to combat deep-seated anti-blackness that is still prevalent in our community. As leaders in the AANHPI community, we must continue to hold our community accountable to attitudes and practices that support the oppression of Black Americans, as well as other disenfranchised communities.

Redefining the institution of law enforcement — Ongoing efforts for police reform have not done enough. Calls to de-fund the police are rooted in the reality that the police and other law enforcement agencies are too often weaponized to threaten and oppress Black Americans and other marginalized people. Mayor Garcetti’s plans to redirect LAPD funding to other community services is a start. However, these institutions need to be transformed to focus on their role of peace officers who are committed to maintaining the safety and dignity of all the communities they serve.

Investment in Black communities — Sadly there are several segments of our society who are victims of systemic racism. However, we must recognize the unique burden the Black community continues to bear. They have experienced historical and systematic inequities that continue to compromise their quality of life. These disparities can be seen in limited access to quality health care, lack of access to employment and educational opportunities, and wage gaps. There needs to be a meaningful investment of resources to strengthen the Black community infrastructure. Beyond money, public policy must also help to create real opportunities for Black Americans to prosper. In California, we can start by supporting efforts to re-establish affirmative action laws, values, and policies; as that of ACA 5.

Embedding ethnic studies into all levels of education — Education is one of the keys to challenging the deep cultural roots of racism. An ongoing ignorance of the rich histories and experiences of the diverse communities that make up our society makes it easier to dismiss the needs and concerns of others. In order to honor the dignity of everyone, our education system must reflect the value of all people with curriculums that uplifts these diverse histories and experiences in a meaningful way. This cannot continue to be treated as an afterthought or add-on to our education system but incorporated in a fundamental way that reflects the value of our country’s diversity.

For almost 40 years, our organization has been dedicated to fighting against all forms of discrimination and civil injustice through the lens and experiences of Asian Americans. That work continues. Yet we have to remember that the struggles of all of our communities are intertwined. Each comes from the sense that we do not belong, that we have less value than others in our society.

Like we did in 1992, we again re-commit ourselves to this ongoing fight for social justice and we are ready to follow the lead of our Black brothers and sisters who are moving us forward, as well the energy of a new generation who are shaping this movement as well. Let’s capture the moment to build a more just future.



Advancing Justice Southern California (AJSOCAL)

AJSOCAL is the nation's largest legal aid and civil rights organization serving the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community