Asian Power

Keeping Up the Struggle Against Police Violence

A young Cambodian woman in Fordham reports her encounter with an officer. Several months ago, says 16-year-old Rorth Chy, a police car pulled up near a pay phone from which she was calling a friend. A white officer beckoned her over, she recalls with a slight grimace, asked her age, and, after looking her up and down, insisted that she must be older. He then inquired about her family's dating policy and her plans for the weekend. When she resisted his advances, she says, the officer nevertheless pressed his telephone number on her. "If a cop calls me over, I have to go. If I don't, it'll look like I'm doing something wrong," she explains.

"I didn't believe [about police harassment] when my friends told me, until it happened to me," she says. So far, she has not reported the incident, but is holding on to the number in case she decides to.

Asian advocates say verbal misunderstandings or outright xenophobia often characterize interactions with police, and non-Asian activists confirm similar problems in other immigrant communities. There is no official procedure for dealing with language barriers in the NYPD, according to Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund executive director Margaret Fung. And Catholic school teacher Susan Chan recounts how, when in late 1995 she was wrongfully arrested by cops while trying to mediate a landlord-tenant dispute, a white officer called her a "Chinese bitch" and sang "God Bless America" in response to her protestations. Such incidents often go unreported, advocates say, because immigrants are afraid of revealing their undocumented status or simply do not know where or how to complain.

But Hunter's Kwong observes that Asians are an ever growing community in New York and, citing trends in California, predicts that greater numbers and increased political organization will eventually force police and the government to be more responsive to their grievances. Meanwhile, a multiracial coalition strives to keep controversy brewing around the Diallo verdict and hopes the combined numbers and organizational strength of various minority groups will prompt a commitment to condemn police violence in all communities.

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