George Floyd in Minneapolis could’ve been any of us
I have blood relatives who are law enforcement officers. Filipino cops? Sure.
But I’m not in the “fraternity.”
Which may explain my initial response to the video you must have seen by now of the white Minneapolis cop with a knee to the neck of George Floyd for at least eight minutes until Floyd, an African American man, succumbs and dies.
Disgusted? You should be. Or let’s make that, you better be.
If you haven’t realized it yet, that person could just as easily be a Filipino.
I know. I’ve been in the situation where I was an ill-advised wisecrack away from getting my head bashed in by some Kentucky law enforcement officers.
But I was not an imposing figure like Floyd. I wasn’t considered a physical threat. I’m a little bigger than Manny Pacquiao, but no one fears my left hook.
The officers just put me in the backseat cage of a car for a minute, checked out my background, then deemed me harmless.
I was lucky not to be given the George Floyd treatment. That’s a cop with his hand in his pocket, a knee to your neck, looking like he’s counting down the seconds to your submission and eventual death.
Only the cop never listened to Floyd’s pleas to stop.
Did Floyd deserve it? No one does. Not in a lawful society. The police report says that Floyd had been stopped while driving, taken out of the car, and had resisted arrest.
News organizations have obtained video tape from surveillance cameras on that Minneapolis street. The one I saw was from the Dragon Wok Takeout. I don’t know if the food’s good, but the tape is clear.
Floyd offered zero resistance.
So how did it go from peaceful to an officer putting a knee to the back of Floyd’s neck?
Don’t kid yourself: if you’re Asian American, or Filipino American, George Floyd could have easily been you.
The four police officers involved have been fired, including Asian American officer Tou Thao, who stood by and watched. I didn’t know the backgrounds of the officers until their names were revealed late yesterday. I knew the officer who had Floyd in a choke was white. Derek Chauvin turns out to have a dozen police misconduct complaints. A side point, he’s also married to an Asian American.
I hadn’t confirmed Officer Thao’s identity when I first wrote, but it’s clear. Asian Americans are capable of being on both sides of that thin blue line.
All the more reason to speak out loud and clear. There needs to be justice in the case of George Floyd.
As we know from the past, getting it will not be easy.
As fate would have it, I am taking part in a panel discussion after a re-enactment of the trial of Vincent Chin’s killers, a presentation of the law firm Allen & Overy and the Asian American Bar Association of New York.
I am always thinking about Vincent Chin. He has been my official hate crime/social barometer since 1982.
That’s the year Chin died after being bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat at the hands of Ronald Ebens in a Detroit suburb.
We will relive the crime next month as we always do on the anniversary date, June 19.
But it’s the justice parts that still linger and burn.
Ebens and his son-in-law Michael Nitz were allowed to plea bargain in a Michigan court to evade mandatory jail time for second-degree murder. Both men got three years’ probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court costs.
They spent no time in jail for the death of Vincent Chin.
In a mixed diverse crowd of blacks, Latinx, and Asians, that fact never fails to produce gasps of indignance.
But stick around. It gets worse. If that were a miscarriage of justice, a raucous second trial of Ebens and Nitz ensued in federal court on civil rights violations. The result? Nitz, the accomplice was acquitted, but Ebens was convicted to 25 years in prison.
However, Ebens appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the case was heard far from Detroit, in Cincinnati.
On May 2, 1987, Ebens was found not guilty on the federal civil rights charges.
There’s your Asian Pacific American Heritage Month link. We bring it up toward the end, because remembering it on May 2 would be such a downer.
But it is appropriate to think about it now. Consider the rise in violence toward Asians since Trump’s harping on the scapegoating phrase, “Chinese Virus” since mid-March. More than 1,500 cases of anti-Asian American hate transgressions across the nation, with more than 60 percent of victims non-Chinese, and a spectrum of violence that runs from verbal abuse and spitting to violent bladed hacking.
No one died, thankfully. And Chin’s case didn’t involve cops, just loutish white Detroit auto workers who saw Asians as the bane to their livelihoods.
But my sensitivity to injustice was ringing off the charts when I saw that George Floyd video, and then when I saw the Dragon Wok surveillance tape.
Don’t kid yourself. It could have easily been you or me.
People of color? We’re in the same boat.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for our North American bureau. Listen to his podcast on being an American Filipino on “Emil Amok’s Takeout.” Twitter @emilamok