Asians with guns, cops with too much power | Inquirer
Emil Amok!

Asians with guns, cops with too much power

/ 10:35 AM January 30, 2023

Half Moon Bay, California mass shooting suspect, Chunli Zhao, in police custody. SCREENGRAB/Curtis McHugh video

Half Moon Bay, California mass shooting suspect, Chunli Zhao, in police custody. SCREENGRAB

For the last week I’ve been writing and talking about the mass shootings at the hands of Asian Americans in just one way. It’s the mark of our assimilation into American gun culture, and sadly into American life.

It’s been what I’ve said on all my writing and media platforms for the past week.


So I’m glad that the New York Times in its opinion section Sunday acknowledged that idea—how we as an immigrant community have come into the mainstream. Assimilation. They kill, we kill. We do everything the same. If they let us.

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Barring discrimination, we are all the same, ultimately. But Add guns into the mix, and there will be violence. Guns don’t discriminate. We are part of the American gun story.

Being part of the gun culture is not foreign to us as Filipinos. Back “home” what are extrajudicial killings after all but an abuse of guns and power?

In America, as we have witnessed, anyone can have the firepower to do life-threatening damage. The Monterey Park shooter Huu Can Tran, had a legal gun that was made illegal with a high capacity magazine. He was said to have a stockpile of ammo and materials to make silencers in his home.

The Half Moon Bay shooter, Chunli Zhao,  had enough from the start. Zhao is reported to have purchased his firepower legally.

Mass shootings among Asian Americans have been a thing in our community ever since Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 using two semi-automatic pistols on April 16, 2007 .

And then there was the Oikos University shooting in Oakland on April 2, 2012, when One L. Goh, used a .45 caliber handgun to kill 7 and injure 3.


Just two individuals who saw guns as the answer to their problems.

In 2023, more of us are doing so. After three years of anti-Asian rhetoric during the pandemic brought a stark rise in hate violence to nearly 12,000 instances, the community has discovered guns as a means of self-defense.

During the pandemic, five million people became first-time gun owners, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Asian Americans, known for their low rates of gun ownership, were part of that trend. AAPI gun ownership rose by 43 percent.

And then there were the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan studies, which found that Asian Americans who experienced or witnessed racism were more likely to buy guns.

I don’t know the Monterey Park shooter’s frame of mind when he went fully armed to the Star Ballroom last week, but the notion of more guns in the community is not a good thing.

The presence of guns only adds unnecessary danger in any situation. And as guns proliferate amongst us, the threat of violence is more real than ever.

After killing ten people and wounding ten, Huu Can Tran took his own life. There’s a cry for better mental health services, as well as real gun control.

Tran and Zhao back to back is a bit of a wakeup call for all of us not to kowtow to the gun rights folks and to take real action against gun violence. Unless we do, we will see the likes of the recent shooters again, as our community further assimilates into the American gun story.

Guns aren’t the answer to anybody’s problem. Neither is excessive force or brutality.

But tell that to the police.

Tyre Nichols video

Funny how a week ago, many of us were marveling at police work in the finding of a mass shooter in Monterey Park, from the moment of gun violence, to the surrounding of the perp in a Torrance parking lot by tact units.

Now Asian American mass shooters have been pushed off the front pages by another kind of chronic American problem: Bad policing, specifically the police abuse of power. It’s the funny aftertaste when the good guys act like bad guys.

Police have guns. But if you have tasers and night sticks, hands and feet, you have all you need to carry out the brute force of authority.

After this weekend there will be one civil rights story in America—the video of the beating of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Memphis Police officers, all of whom have been fired and charged this week with felonies, including second-degree murder and kidnapping.

I saw it, but must confess, I couldn’t watch and rewatch and dissect it blow by blow.

The body cams provided the hateful ambience and sense of urgency, with the sound and blurry action.

The pole cam gave us the wide context. We saw officers’ kicks, and punches to Nichols’ head and body. I didn’t count them all. One is too many.

And yet, I’ve seen the video of Rodney King, the African American man brutally beaten by the Los Angeles Police March 3, 1991. And that was relentless. That was shocking.

The Tyre Nichols video compared to that might make one say, it wasn’t all that bad. But it was.

The Nichols video showed what officers see as acceptable police work, a kind of sel-defense. Against what? One could see Nichols demeanor was compliant. He was yanked out of his car and assaulted. Nichols escaped out of self-defense. And then when they caught him, as I saw it, the officers apparently stopped policing in order to let out their anger on an innocent, defenseless man.

The five officers charged with murder, have obtained attorneys and are claiming their innocence.

Hard to see the video and see it as a sign of innocence on the part of the police.

That’s what summons up the shock that I had when I first saw the Rodney King video decades ago.

Did you see the video. You should. If you say, I’ll let Emil and others see it and I’ll go along, that’s not good enough.

Because the good doesn’t win out unless we are all outraged by the Nichols video.

You have to be part of the jury.

Another difference between Rodney King and the Nichols video also is that most all the key players in this case are Black. Nichols, the police officers, the police chief.

But that only cancels out racial animus as a factor. This seems to be a pure case of police brutality where the only relevant color is blue.

How did it happen that the supposed “good guys,” five of them, went over the edge of the thin blue line to be accused of murdering an innocent man?

That is the culture of policing today and that has to change.

The Blue Code has been exposed again.

Just don’t think Tyre Nichols couldn’t be any one of us. Think Angelo Quinto the Filipino American who died after a choke hold was applied to him.  We have assimilated into the police brutality narrative.

Asian Americans are on both sides of the line often. Asian American officer Tou Thao got 3 ½ years for his part in violating George Floyd’s rights in Minnesota.  But the guilty verdicts against the officers in the George Floyd case were rarities. We see what kind of real impact that case has really had in the day to day policing.

The Nichols video shows, not much has changed with the culture of Blue. And it needs to change now.

Corky Lee, and my New York City Frigid Fringe show

Jan. 27 is the day my old friend, the photographer Corky Lee, died of complications from Covid. He is the first and only person I know who died of Covid specifically. He died before there was any vaccine.

About three years ago, we talked about trying to get me to do my one-man theater piece, “Emil Amok: The Amok Monologues” in New York. The pandemic killed that idea.

But now that people are out and about, I am venturing out of my closet in California and coming to a live audience.

“Emil Amok: Lost NPR Host Found Under St. Marks, and other stories…” is my one-hour show where I talk about the absurdities of life as an Asian American Filipino. There’s the racist history that’s common to all Asians in America. I talk about my colonized father, working my way up in media to being the first Asian American to host NPR’s “All Things Considered.” I also talk about Harvard and affirmative action, and I’m sure I’ll sneak in a Corky story.

It’s a tragicomic storytelling that’s only comic because there’s too much pain in all our real stories.

Come see the show at the New York City Frigid Fringe, and as my show title suggests, it’s at the intimate Under St. Mark’s Theater in Manhattan, Feb. 16 to March 4. The show’s on at various times, so click on this link to get all the dates and show times.

Willie Guillermo, my late father, who was naturalized on Feb. 16, and will have a cameo, thanks you in advance.

And if you’re not in the New York area, buy a live stream ticket and see it on your computer wherever you are. Philippines, California, Canada. It’s Emil Amok.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on


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TAGS: gun violence, police abuse
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