September 9, 2014—Today, on the one-month anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, three leading Asian American civil rights organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (AAAJ-ALC), AAAJ-Chicago and AAAJ-Los Angeles, extend our condolences to the family of Michael Brown, who was killed exactly one month ago in Ferguson, Missouri.
Michael Brown’s death is just one of many fatal shootings of African Americans by law enforcement officials around the nation and these deaths expose the systemic and entrenched nature of racial profiling and racial discrimination that African Americans have long endured and fought against in the struggle for civil and human rights. We stand united with African Americans and other communities of color, as well as civil rights and social justice organizations around the nation, in calling for the state and federal government leaders to act swiftly and decisively to address racial bias and profiling, misconduct, and brutality by law enforcement, as well as the militarization of law enforcement over more community-oriented policing.
As Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, our communities have also experienced police brutality and discrimination. We have countless stories of our own youth and other community members being targeted, shot or beaten by law enforcement, from discriminatory dragnets by the San Francisco Police Department targeting Chinese American youth in the 1970s, to more recent cases like the many post-9/11 racial profiling cases involving South Asians and Muslims and a 2013 workplace raid where Chicago police struck a U.S. citizen Chinese American woman while she was kneeling and handcuffed and threatened her with deportation.
In particular, we demand the following:
1. Justice for Michael Brown
We applaud the U.S. Department of Justice in responding swiftly to community requests for a federal investigation of the shooting of Michael Brown and a civil rights investigation of Ferguson’s police practices, but we urge Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Missouri State Attorney General Chris Koster to also take action to ensure a fair, just and transparent process at the state level, by appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Michael Brown’s shooting.
2. Strengthen federal laws and policies against racial and other forms of profiling
Profiling, whether of race, religion or another personal characteristic, relies on stereotypes instead of specific behavior to target individuals for investigation, arrest or prosecution. Unfortunately, it is pervasive at all levels of law enforcement. We urge the U.S. Department of Justice to update and strengthen its 2003 “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies”, including: making the guidance enforceable; applying the guidance to state and local law enforcement; eliminating loopholes for the border enforcement and national security; covering surveillance activities; and prohibiting profiling based on religion, national origin, and sexual orientation and gender identity grounds. In addition, we urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, which would prohibit the use of profiling by law enforcement agencies and would require training of law enforcement on profiling issues.
3. Establish national standards for investigating police misconduct and policing tactics
In addition to racial bias and racial profiling in policing, reports of police misconduct, excessive use of force, and civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement requires a national response. Across the board, there is a lack of data, resources and guidance to track and respond to these issues; a lack of accountability to communities being served by local enforcement agencies; and often no independent investigation or enforcement mechanism in cases of allegations of discrimination or other individual rights violations.
We urge the Administration to exert leadership at a national level, through existing federal agencies and/or the establishment of a national commission, to set national standards on not only racial profiling but also on critical related issues such as preventing the use of excessive force, requiring body and vehicle cameras, requiring accountability of law enforcement to local communities, and requiring diversity in law enforcement agencies. We also urge the Administration to create a national database to track and monitor such issues and also to ensure that investigations of state or local law enforcement are fair and transparent (i.e., no law enforcement agency should be solely responsible for investigating itself).
4. Demilitarize state and local law enforcement
The law enforcement response in Ferguson, Missouri, to the protests surrounding the death of Michael Brown exposed the trend of militarizing local law enforcement. Effective policing should not rely on weapons of war or occupation, and should instead focus on community engagement and include greater community oversight over local law enforcement agencies. We urge the U.S. Department of Justice to thoroughly investigate and to suspend programs that transfer military equipment to local police or provide funding to local police to purchase such equipment, as well as to monitor and regulate the use of military equipment already provided to local police.
It is unfortunate that it has taken a tragedy such as the death of Michael Brown before our political leaders are willing to acknowledge or address pervasive racial bias in policing. This is not just about Ferguson. There are many communities in the United States today where people fear the police and see them as aggressors instead of protectors. We commit to working with African Americans and others to demand that necessary reforms be implemented across the country. Significant change must happen before the motto “to serve and protect” will ring true for our communities.
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Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus is the nation’s oldest legal organization defending the civil rights of Asians and Pacific Islanders, particularly low-income, immigrant and underserved communities.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago is the leading pan-Asian organization in the Midwest dedicated to empowering the Asian American community through advocacy, research, education, leadership development and coalition-building.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles is the nation’s largest legal organization serving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through direct legal services, impact litigation, policy advocacy and leadership development.