Bao Phi

Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991. A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has appeared on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, and a poem of his appeared in the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. Read more about Bao Phi.

Posts about Violence

Letters Home: the shootings at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: August 16, 2012 - 10:24 PM

 

 

 

Like much of the Asian American community, I was stunned and saddened to my core a couple of weeks ago to hear about the terrible murder of Sikh people in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  Adding to the tragedy, there seems to be little empathy or coverage of this terrible event in the mainstream American press and consciousness.  What little there has been in the mainstream press has been problematic.

Shortly after the incident, I received an email from Preeti Kaur with a poem about the hate crime.  I was floored by it.  I asked Preeti to write an artist's statement and her thoughts for this blog.  Her response follows, with a link to her full poem at the end.

 

On August 5, 2012, while morning services were starting at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a gunman barged into the place of worship with assault weapons. For over two hours, he terrorized the worshipers -- an innocent crowd consisting of faith scholars, elderly, women, and children. He ultimately shot six dead, seriously wounded three others including a police lieutenant, and ended his terror by fatally shooting himself to death. Posthumous investigations indicated the killer, Wade Michael Page, was a decades-long out-spoken member of white supremacist groups and bands.  

 

As an American and a practicing Sikh, I was deeply aggrieved that this could happen in one of our places of worship. In times of grief, poetry can give us the space to connect our personal grief with external grief.  Letters Home is a collection of poems which seek to connect the tragedy in Oak Creek with the larger narrative of violence in the name of a deep-seeded racial hatred in this country.

 

The Oak Creek shooting calls us to seek the guidance of Bhagat Singh Thind, a Sikh from Punjab, India, who fought for the United States in World War I, but was denied American citizenship because of xenophobic laws during his era.

 

The Oak Creek killings rekindle our American remorse for the heinous murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first person killed in a hate crime after 9/11, for being an immigrant practicing his faith by visibly emphasizing his difference in wearing a turban. Practicing Sikh men, and some women, wear a turban to cover their long, unshorn hair, which they maintain as a commitment to acceptance, and to being a distinguishable beacon of sanctuary in times of danger. Yet in America, this difference exhibited by practicing Sikhs, especially in the post-9/11 years, has meant being subject to bullying in schools, being subject to racial epithets or violence in society, to the most extreme punishment: death.

 

Oak Creek calls on the Sikh community itself, again spotlighted in a time of tragedy, to respond with the dictates of our teachings: compassion, resilience, and a lived strength, especially in a time of loss.

 

Oak Creek re-awakens our historical amnesia and reminds us of the Bellingham Riots of 1907, where the Asiatic Exclusion League, a xenophobic organization of the time, violently ejected over 400 Sikh lumbermen from a Washington lumber-town.

 

Oak Creek brings alive Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was killed in Detroit in 1982 in a hate crime which has been historically labeled a case of mistaken identity. One cannot help suggesting, in this era of extreme Islamophobia played out on the national policy and media theaters, that perhaps Sikhs, who might look like a version of the so-called 'enemy' to people with crude knowledge of the world, were 'mistaken' for an alternative target-- a Muslim target. No one deserves brutality for being stereotyped as an enemy, no matter what their faith. No one deserves a political climate which justifies racist collective punishment. In the last two weeks alone our nation has seen eight attacks against places of worship, most of them Muslim places of worship. America needs to address the political climates which give vigor to hate-based violence within our borders.

 

Oak Creek also calls us to question collective punishment and supremacist ideologies around the world, from the 1984 pogroms against the Sikhs in  Delhi, India, to the recent March 2012 massacre of villagers in Panjwai, Afghanistan.

 

Finally, Oak Creek should evoke a dirge of grief from all Americans. The symbolism of white supremacist violence against a place of worship inhabited by people of color is something our country witnessed in the 1963 bombing of a Black church in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights movement.  We have moved mountains since then, yet mountains remain. 

 

President Obama still has not visited the families of the Oak Creek victims, as he has done in other recent mass-shootings in our nation, leaving many to wonder why a tragedy against a minority racialized community does not deserve the dignity of a President's gesture of shared national grief. What happened in Oak Creek is an American tragedy. I grieve for America.

 

Excerpt of poem Letters Home:

 

please forward to the 50 states/ the white house/ all territories/ the flagged patch on the moon

 

america:

enter

the gurdwara door is open

our bare feet like cracked glass

our covered heads bulletproof from ego

we turn our backs on bellingham

build our gurdwaras from post traumatic cinder

of bombed birmingham black church

nina simone sings tera bhaana meetha laage*

to tune of mississippi goddamn

gunpowder lines noses of children

left behind wailing mummy papa we will never forget you

‘the love that forgives’ a lullaby

which sears obedient

into a bittering lemon

 

i stand half mast, america

i grieve for my future son, america

i grieve for all nights, america

 

i grieve for all nights

 

 

*A Sikh prayer invoking acceptance of sacrifice. Literally, it means “May I experience Your will as sweet to me.”

 

 

For complete poem, please see here.

 

 

Preeti Kaur attended Gurdwara at the local Sikh center in Minneapolis for years as a student. She currently lives in California. Her poetry can be found at Qarrtsiluni Literary Magazine, The Loft's ¿ Nation of Immigrants? spoken word CD, the South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection, and The Sikh Review.

Vincent Chin: 30 Years Later

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: June 18, 2012 - 8:38 AM

 

Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin

 

 

 

On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was at his bachelor party at Fancy Pants, a strip club in suburban Detroit.  Two white out-of-work autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, began trading insults at Chin from across the bar.  “It’s because of you little *expletive deleted* that we’re out of work,” witnesses say Ebens yelled at Chin.

 

At the time, anti-Japanese sentiment was high.  Many blamed the decline of the U.S. auto industry on Japan – I remember the pressure to buy products with a “Made in America” sticker or patch on them, even though I was just a boy.  Vincent Chin, a 27 year old Chinese American draftsman, was not Japanese, and had nothing to do with the auto industry.

 

After the altercation, Chin and his friends parted ways, but Ebens and Nitz weren’t done.  They went looking for Chin, reportedly paying a friend $20 to help look for him.  They found him at a McDonalds, dragged him outside, and one of them held Chin down while the other brutally beat him with a baseball bat.  Four days later, Chin died – five days before his wedding.

 

Both Ebens and Nitz got three years' probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court costs.  To this day, neither of them have spent a day in jail.

 

I will repeat that: Ebens and Nitz sought out an unarmed man, held him down, and beat him to death in front of witnesses, and to this day they haven’t spent a single day in jail.

 

How does one make sense of that.    In a few days, it will be the 30 year anniversary of his murder, and still, thinking about Vincent Chin is like ripping open an old, raw wound.  Even after years of struggling for change, of witnessing terrible injustice after injustice, of trying to educate yourself about institutional racism, how do you make sense of this.


How do you reason with people who *still* don’t think racism exists.   

 

Sure, there have been many much less visible incidents of horrific racist violence against Asians before Chin.  And unfortunately, many after him.  That just makes it worse.  It is a reminder to all of us, that our lives simply aren’t worth as much as a white person’s.

 

The race of the perpetrator is important, absolutely.  But so is the race of the victim.  Statistics show that in the U.S., if the victim of a crime is white, the perpetrator is far more likely to endure harsher punishments, including the death penalty, than if the victim is a person of color or Native American.

 

But still, even armed with this disappointing knowledge: no jail time served for the brutal murder of an Asian American man.

 

I’m not even a vindictive person.  Punishing Ebens and Nitz won’t bring Chin back.  Nor will it even the scales for all of the people of color who have suffered from the racism in our legal and penal system.

 

Still.

 

You can talk about how this all started at a strip club, and how we should be critical of all men and their patronage of such places.  Just as long as you ask yourself, do all men regardless of their race fear death by baseball bat by going to a strip club.  Is that a reason to murder anyone.

 

The fact that he was Chinese American and had nothing to do with the auto industry – it still would have been horrible if he had been Japanese and worked for Honda.

 

And still – Fong Lee was killed in 2006, in a case that is highly suspect, by a police officer with a history of violence both while on duty and at home in his personal life – he was given a Medal of Valor for shooting and killing Lee, a teenager.

 

Lili Wang was murdered in 2002 by her classmate, Richard Anderson, who had stated he had a “preference” for Asian women.  Richard shot and killed Lili, a married woman, after he was allegedly frustrated that she had turned down his advances.

 

In 1992, 10 years after the murder of Vincent Chin, 16 year-old High School student Yoshi Hattori was looking for a Halloween party with his friend.  They knocked on the door of 30 year old Rodney Peairs and his family.  No one answered so they began to walk away.  Bonnie Peairs, Rodney’s wife, looked out her window, spotted “an Oriental person,” and called out to her husband, “Honey, get your gun.”  Rodney Peairs shot Yoshi Hattori point blank in the chest, killing him.  His defense was that Yoshi, a Japanese exchange student, had an "extremely unusual manner of moving", one which any reasonable person would find "scary”. 


Peairs has also never spent time in jail for the murder of Yoshi Hattori.

 

There are also the countless Arab, Muslim, and South Asians who have been harassed, beaten, and murdered, both prior to 9/11 and afterwards, including 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal and 67-year-old Surinder Singh, gunned down and killed while on an afternoon walk in Sacramento.

 

It’s not just us Asians.  25 year old Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez was brutally beaten and killed by two white teenagers – who were acquitted of all serious charges and face 7 to 23 month sentences.   Trayvon Martin, a teenager, was killed by George Zimmerman – it was a long time before Zimmerman saw the inside of a jail cell.

 

Justice is not even on our side when we act in self defense.  CeCe McDonald, a local transgender African American, defended herself when she and her friends were verbally and physically assaulted outside Schooner’s in South Minneapolis.  She faces three years in a men’s prison for defending herself.

 

I’m not saying that I like the prison-industrial complex of this country.  However, I do believe it is worthwhile to look at the inequalities.  Koua Fong Lee was driving a car that malfunctioned, and another family was killed in the accident.  He did not flee the scene – and his own family was in his car – and yet no one believed him when he insisted it was an accident.  His own family was in his car – why would he endanger their lives as well?  He spent three years in jail before the Toyota recall put his allegations that the brakes malfunctioned into a new light, and he was freed.

 

Contrast that to Amy Senser, who killed Anousone Phanthavong in a hit-and-run, knocking him nearly 50 feet, fled the scene, and did not turn herself in until days later, after she had consulted her lawyers.  She was not jailed during the trial, and though she is convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide, and though there was expert testimony that Phanthavong was flung onto her car and there was no way she could not have known she hit a person, the jury inexplicably sent her a note saying they believed her.

 

Who you believe says a lot about you. 


And the list goes on.  John T. Williams.  Oscar Grant.  Chonburi Xiong.  Michael Cho. Cau Thi Bich Tran.  Tycel Nelson.  And these are just the more well-known names.  How many more dozens, or hundreds, of nameless brown people are killed twice: once by murder, and again by a racist judicial system.

 

30 years later, and we can’t forget Vincent Chin.  And we shouldn’t.

 

There is no way for me to make sense of this case.  I try to write intelligently about it, and all I have is unbridled, bottomless anger.  I feel provoked, to my core.  That one of my earliest memories is that kids were calling me chink and I had to ask my dad what it meant.  To have a lifetime of micro-aggressions and not-so-micro aggressions directed at you, stacked on top of people telling you your experience and insisting that racism doesn’t exist towards your people, and to top it all off, that people can murder you in the street in front of McDonalds and get a slap on the wrist for it.  And though Vincent Chin’s tragic murder is relatively invisible, it’s horrifying to think his case is actually one of the more visible, known cases of anti-Asian violence.  I feel that there is no room for love, or reason, in a world like this.  I feel tired, and defeated.  Stupid and useless. 

 

Of course, if there is any bright side at all to this, it is that the memory of Chin and the blatant injustice has galvanized many Asian Americans to activism.  I asked some respected Asian American activists and community workers to talk about this case for my blog. 


I asked them two questions:  What do you remember about the first time you heard about Vincent Chin?  Why do you think this case is still important, 30 years later?  Their answers follow.  I thank them for their time, and energy.


I do not remember how or where i first heard about Vincent Chin, the white men who murdered him, and the justice system that supported them to walk free -but it wasn't until my college years. I do remember feeling awful that so many years of my life had passed before his story made its way to me. This was something i should have learned in elementary school and discussed throughout my adolescence along with Emmett Till's case.

 

This case will be forever important and forever relevant. Here I offer questions.  What is acceptable for this country to mourn and permissible to bury? What is convenient about the collective unconsciousness surrounding Vincent Chin's case? Asian Americans are still seen as perpetual foreigners, another axis in how People of Color are racialized. How have devastating instances of brutality and injustice upon Asian Americans been confined? How even our struggles are "outsiders within"? How in celebrating our strength and power we are welcomed? 

 

Eva Song Margolis is a Minneapolis-based activist.

 

The gruesome Chin murder forced us to ask deeper questions and seek more complicated answers. It is elementary to answer the question “Who Killed Vincent Chin;” Ron Ebens and Mike Nitz killed him. But a more complicated answer is white America’s creation of the “Yellow Peril” stereotype killed Vincent Chin. The anti-Japanese and anti-Asian fervor in the U.S. reached levels not seen since Pearl Harbor. Corporations, elected officials and celebrities alike were drawing comparisons between the sudden rise in Japanese automobiles to the invasion of Pearl Harbor. The Chin case forced us to ask questions about how as a community we interfaced with the state and the courts when our civil rights were violated. Have we successfully and faithfully applied these lessons since his murder?


In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, have we failed to ask the deeper and broader questions that the Chin murder case taught us to ask? Where was the massive public outrage over the 1,400+ Arab, Arab Americans, Middle Easterners and other “non-whites” being detained without regard to their civil rights? How critical have we been to the steady flow of legislation being passed in the name of “homeland security” that violates our basic civil rights?

 

Daren Rikio Mooko is an activist and Associate Dean of Students at Pomona College

 

 

The first time I heard about Vincent Chin was in 1995.  Ping Chong's company presented a performance piece that included baseball bats and a dramatization of Vincent Chin's murder.  I was shocked, especially because I grew up in Detroit and knew nothing of the case even though it happened in my own city.  Either my parents shielded me from the murder because I was a child or because they didn't think it was important to share what happened with me.  I found out years later that the Asian-American community was gathering in basements right across the street from my elementary school, to discuss what to do...and I never knew it was happening. 

 

The case is still important because these kind of hate crimes still exist today, in our own backyards: in Chicago, in Tulsa, in Minneapolis.  Vincent-Chin-violence happens today, yesterday and unfortunately as an Asian-American woman, I know incidents will continue to happen tomorrow.  Because we, as Americans, as a global community, are not "post-race" by any means.  Understanding racism is a lifelong commitment.  Race is not easily understood; the actions of violence that have continued since Vincent Chin's murder 30 years ago only further amplify the need to address the complexities of race in the United States if we want to evolve as a nation.

 

Sun Mee Chomet is an actor, playwright and collaborator who lives in the country of St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

The first time I learned about Vincent Chin to any great extent, was when I first watched the film "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" directed by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena.  I had been invited to perform in an Artist Exchange event at the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia as part of the 20th Anniversary remembrance events of Vincent Chin's murder.  What I remember most is the interview of Lily Chin, Vincent Chin's mother, in the film.  She recounts the last moment she had spoken to Vincent--had seen him alive--before he went out that night to his bachelor party.  She talks about how she was entreating him to stay home because he was getting married the next day.  And in both reassuring her and dismissing her, he had responded to her not to worry or to make a big deal out of because it would be "the last time."  And his mother says that she told him, "Don't say 'last time'--it's bad luck," and as the fatal import of that last exchange with her son comes rushing in on her, and she breaks down at the end of the interview, sobbing uncontrollably.  In that moment as I watched this part of the film, I saw my own mother.  I could hear my own mother in her story--that could have been my brother.  That could have been any Asian/Asian American man.  In that moment, Vincent Chin's murder became personal to me.


I believe the Vincent Chin case is still important because  it reminds us that racial violence continues to be perpetrated against members of our community, particularly young Asian American men, as was the case in Fong Lee's murder in Minneapolis in 2006.  It also reminds us that in such cases, we still face a tremendous and disheartening battle in trying to acquire justice. Finally, it demonstrates the urgency for us as a community to develop a consciousness in which  Asian/Asian American people believe in true solidarity and coalition.   For this belief to be realized, people in our community need to recognize  the importance of learning our own history from our own perspective, to be  proud of our own culture, and to resist internalizing racist and sexist  images of ourselves.

 

Michelle Myers is spoken word poet, activist, and educator in Philadelphia, PA.

 

 

Pan-Asian Voices for Equity, Minnesota (PAVE-MN) are organizing a local community event honoring Vincent Chin.  The event includes local artists, activists, and spoken word artists, as well as a live-stream of a national panel of Asian American civil rights leaders.  More information here:

 

http://pavemn.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/standing-up-then-now-v-chin-30/

 

The race card and stacked decks

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: September 22, 2011 - 12:18 AM

 A few hours after they accuse you of playing the race card for merely mentioning the word race, the powers that be execute a Black man, Troy Davis, though there seems to be ample room for doubt that he was the one who committed the crime.  Nevermind, for the time being, your opinions on the death penalty and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Instead, if they want to talk about facts, let’s examine some facts:

 

In 1982, two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, murdered Vincent Chin with a baseball bat in a racially motivated hate crime.  They blamed “japs” like Vincent Chin for the declining American auto industry, though Chin was Chinese American and had nothing to do with the auto industry.  This act was witnessed by two off-duty police officers.  Ebens and Nitz, to this day, have not spent a single night in jail for Vincent Chin’s murder.

 

In 2006, Officer Jason Andersen, an officer with a troubled record, shot and killed Hmong teenager Fong Lee.  Officer Andersen claims Lee had a gun.  There has been inconsistencies regarding the case, including lack of forensic evidence linking Lee to a gun reported on the scene, video footage analyzed by a video expert stating Lee did not have a gun.  Officer Andersen was acquitted of use of excessive force.

 

In 2009, Oscar Grant was executed point blank by Officer Johannes Mehserle, while he was prostrate.  He was unarmed.  The murder of Oscar Grant was witnessed by dozens and caught on cell phone cameras.  Officer Mehserle was sentenced to two years minus time served.

 

A few hours ago, Troy Davis was executed for allegedly murdering an off-duty police officer.  7 of 9 key witnesses against him disputed or recanted all or parts of their testimony.  Some asserted that they had been coerced by police. The murder weapon was never recovered.

 

My people, we know that they accuse us of playing the race card because they always stack the deck in their favor.


If you look at this logic, it’s clear who is really playing the race card.  Our unfortunate history, and our struggle, tell us this.

 

But this is not about them.  They get to voice their opinion all the time. Their comfortable hate already takes up too much room.  They are the only ones responsible for their hearts, their souls.  Let this space not be about them, but something else.  Dare I say – let this small space, and any small space that you may have, dear friend, be a space for us.  Take a breath.


Like you, I don’t quite know what to do, or feel.  It’s a sad night, in a history thick with sad nights.  Forgive me, all I have is this, my thoughts and my writing.  And this little space.  But it’s yours.  

Homefront: a game that stirs up yellow peril?

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: March 10, 2011 - 2:36 PM

 

 

 

(The children awaiting execution in the photo were part of the Daejeon massacre of a re-education collective.  The photograph is from the US National Archives.  It was taken by US military advisor, Major Abbot, and was a “top secret” photo until recently.)

 

Being a relatively dedicated gamer, I was more than a little concerned when I heard about this game called Homefront.  Written by the same scribe that wrote the 80's cult movie Red Dawn, in which Russians invade the U.S. ("Wolverines!"), the game imagines a future where the U.S. is somehow invaded and occupied by North Korea.  As silly, paranoid , and racist as this seemed, I also wondered how it would be perceived by mainstream audiences.  I also wondered if anyone in the mainstream press would write about it.  At this point it seems no one in the gaming press has addressed any possible racism or yellow peril used in the images and advertising for this upcoming game.

I've always been interested in socio-political issues in video games (and gaming in general), but unfortunately I am woefully ignorant and misinformed about Korea and the Korean War.   As luck would have it, my friend and fellow gaming enthusiast Sajin said he had been following the development of the game and had been working on an essay about it..  So here is a guest post from him.  I found it to be highly educational and a much needed alternative perspective.  I read it, and learned a lot, and it made me think.  I hope it does the same for you.

 

 

 

 

 

Homefront, the upcoming military combat game from THQ, is set upon the premise that a united Korea, under control of the North, invades and occupies the United States.  The game promises to break new ground in the genre by providing a story that makes players emotionally invested in the action.  Specifically, it promises to arouse anger and indignation in players as they watch Koreans commit atrocities towards American civilians. 

 

North Korea has been riding a tide of negative publicity ever since the end of WWII, and continuous hostilities with the US and South Koreamake North Korea a country that is hard for most Americans not to hate.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that North Koreans are cast as the villains in a video game with American protagonists.  At the same time, the game’s storyline is deeply troubling because it is rooted in historical ignorance and revisionist rhetoric about the Korean War.

 

Clearing up the Historical Record

Most Americans think that the US liberated Korea after the Korean War and established democracy, freedom, and human rights in the South.  This “freedom fighting” perspective might make a game like Homefront seem relatively harmless.  However, in light of the truth about US involvement in South Korea -the astronomical civilian death tolls and the US-backed totalitarian governments in the South- this game’s premise becomes deeply troubling.

 

Advertisements for Homefront feature CGI clips of Korean soldiers bulldozing American bodies into mass graves and brutal reeducation camps for the remaining American civilians. Bound Americans have bags placed over their heads as they are dragged away.  Another scene depicts faceless Korean soldiers tearing an American family apart as individuals are forcibly herded into camps.  Firing squads kill civilians.  Bodies hang from posts.  This is the dystopic picture painted in the game.  However, all of these things did happen to Korean people under the US command in South Korea. 

 

Understanding the US military’s role in the violence that occurred to Korean civilians provides critical insight into how disturbing Homefront is.  This violence began from the US occupation of Korea after WWII (1945~1950), continued in the Korean War (1950~1953), and exists to this day in a period of Unending War (1953~present).  During all of these periods, the United States military has maintained operational control of the South Korean military.  For decades, the US armed and outfitted South Korean soldiers, and US military authorization is required for troop deployments and military engagements.  Even today, South Korea does not have sovereign control over its own military. Thus the US bears responsibility for both the violence it committed directly and the violence committed through its South Korean proxies.

 

Conquest, not Liberation

It is critical to insert complexity into the typical narrative of “American freedom fighting” in order to understand the egregious nature of Homefront’s decision to cast Koreans as aggressors, and American civilians as victims.  From the beginning, Korea’s relations with the US were rife with problems.  For example, in 1882, the United States signed a treaty to protect Korea from foreign invasion, but in 1905, the US made a secret agreement with Japan consenting to the Japanese colonization of Korea.  This act helped initiate Japan’s militaristic expansion which culminated with World War II. 

 

During the Second World War, Koreans continued to fight against Japanese domination, while the US claimed to fight for the liberation of Japanese-occupied countries.  However, once the war was over, the leader of the US occupation in Korea, General John Hodge stated that “Korea is an enemy of the US and will be treated accordingly.”  Subsequently, the US occupation of Korea seemed like a betrayal to a nation that perceived the US as an ally and a liberator.  Upon arriving in South Korea, the US military promptly dismantled local democratic governments, reinstalled Japanese collaborators to power, negated all egalitarian land reforms, and wrested factories from the workers, placing control ofboth farming and industry in the hands of pro-Japanese Koreans.  Leftists who opposed Japan during World War II were jailed, tortured, and executed during the US occupation.  The remaining anti-Japanese activists were forced to join “re-education collectives.”  The brutal prison camps of Homefront recreate these conditions, but in reality, it was Korean civilians in the South who suffered at the hands of the US and their Korean proxies.

 

Homefront portrays an atmosphere of despair in which totalitarian Korean forces bully and brutalize a downtrodden US population.  This fantasy inverses the reality of US-occupied Korea.  In Korea’s Place in the Sun, Bruce Cummings quotes former ACLU leader Roger Baldwin who toured Korea in 1947 and noted, “[T]he country is literally in the grip of a police regime and a private terror; you get the impression of a beaten discouraged people.”

 

Imagery from Homefront advertisements shows the burnt-out husks of American cities and dead bodies strung up from telephone lines.  Although this fictional imagery is solely intended to provoke, it doesn’t come close to matching the scale of death and destruction that actually occurred on Jeju Island.  In 1948, Jeju Island residents resisted US-sponsored “democratic elections,” after political opponents of the US were imprisoned, executed, or assassinated.  A campaign of terror was launched to put down the resistance.  Indiscriminate killing and a scorched earth campaign ensued.  A 2000 Newsweek article (“Ghosts of Cheju”) gives this survivor’s account,

 

[S]oldiers arrived by moonlight and took away 150 men and ‘then picked out about 20 pretty girls’… the men were moved to a beach and executed four days later.  Soldiers allegedly gang-raped the girls over a two week period then killed them.

 

In the end, 30% of the island’s population was wiped out.  230 out of 400 villages were burnt to the ground.  Human bones can still be found washing up on the island to this day.  Such acts would test the limits of believability even in a game as far-fetched as Homefront.

 

The Korean War

Homefront promises a compelling storyline that unflinchingly presents the brutal truths about the effects of war on civilians.  But, the game’s brutal truths are actually based on the fiction of “freedom fighting,” both in the future and in the past.Although in reality, Korean civilians suffered and died due to US acts, this truth cannot co-exist withthe game’s rhetoric of “freedom fighting,” and has therefore been erased.As a result, Homefront’s story looks less like an inversionof the past than a logical continuation of a fight for freedom.In this way, Homefront perpetuates ignorance about the reality of the Korean War, obscuring the suffering of Korean civilians.

 

The mismanagement of the US occupation set the stage for one of the bloodiest civil wars of the 20th century.  The Korean War was a disaster, with countless civilians slaughtered (estimates place civilian deaths as high as 10% of the total population), untold atrocities, a scorched earth campaign designed to "leave no building standing outside of the Pusan perimeter," and a cease-fire instead of a peace treaty. 

 

At the time of the war, Pyeongyang had a population of 400,000, and the US dropped one bomb on the city for every inhabitant, plus 20,000 more for good measure.  Hospitals, orphanages, and every other civilian structure in the city weretargeted.  Not a single building was left standing.  Civilians were also victims of US napalm attacks.  In Haunting the Korean Diaspora, Grace Cho notes that “US bombers dumped as much as 600,000 tons of napalm over the Korean peninsula… this was more than had been used against Japan in WWII and more than would later be dropped over Vietnam.” In addition, the Associated Press also broke various stories detailing US attacks on Korean civilians.  The story of US soldiers receiving orders to fire on refugees at Nogun Ri won a Pulitzer prize for journalism, and their follow up story about the US Airforce Policy to strafe civilians demonstrated that the US had a policy of targeting non-combatants.

 

The worst of the wartime atrocities occurred under the watchful eyes of American supervisors as the leftists that were forced into “reeducation collectives” (Bodo Yeonmaeng) were systematically executed.  Since many local governors were pressured to fill quotas for these groups, they forced non-leftists including children into the re-education collectives as well.  Civilian estimates place the number of dead from these massacres as high as one million, while the most conservative estimates place it at 100,000. 

 

The reality of American-sponsored mass executions during the Korean War stands in sharp contrast to Homefront’s depiction of American civilians being massacred by Koreans. In an interview about the game, Rex Dickson, lead level designer for Homefront noted,

”You’re gonna see a lot of scenes in the game of these poor passive (American) civilians who don’t have the means to defend themselves (against Koreans), and these horrible things are happening to them… either they are getting shot (by Koreans) or they are being brought to these internment camps… When war (initiated by Korea) comes to the homefront it is really horrible for (American) civilians.”

 

Unending War, Quagmire, and Brutality

As Homefront pushes forward with its commercial blitz, the truth about war crimes is still being uncovered, questions remain unanswered, and even today, more than 28,500 US soldiers continue to occupy South Korea.  Since no peace treaty was ever signed, the US is still at war with North Korea.  A cease-fire was signed in 1953, but hostilities continue today.  From the time of the ceasefire, the US has supported various undemocratic military despots, directly participated in the trafficking and prostitution of more than one million women, fathered and abandoned endless children, and committed crimes ranging from murder, to drug trafficking, assault, rape, and theft.  These acts contradictpopular American notions about “freedom” and “democracy” in South Korea after the cease-fire.

 

A Blunt-Force Appeal to Violence

Violence towards Korean civilians was rationalized by the rhetoric of “freedom fighting,” and Homefront’s narrative is solidly grounded in this ideology -both in its use of history, and in its imagined future.  As Homefront continues to blur the line between fantasy and reality by juxtaposing the fictional game narrative with real life events, the distinction between truth of civilian deaths and “freedom fighting” rhetoric becomes less and less clear.  For example recent tragedies, like the exchange of fire at Yeongpyeong Island, served as a springboard to launch press releases for the game.  These press releases speculated that the threat of a North Korean invasion is real and the fictional events in the game could actually become a reality. As Homefront blurs the line between fiction and reality, andas it exploits the continuing tragedies of the Korean War, the war’s toll on Korean civilians get pushed further and further into the background. 

 

In addition to obscuring the past, games like Homefront allude to the possible repetition of these tragedies in the future.  Popular gaming site Kotaku featured this headline about Homefront: “Get Excited to Kill North Koreans with Homefront’s new ‘Resistance’ trailer.”  The headline fails to distinguish between North Korean civilians and the North Korean military, with a flippant attitude towards Korean lives. It is an attitude that underlies Homefront’s entire promotional campaign, which included a recent anti-North Korean rally held at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.  These promotions make repeated, blunt-force appeals to American contempt towards Korea, with the promise of a bloody catharsis and violent wish fulfillment through the game.

 

This ultimately makes Homefront an appeal to violence towards North Korea.  Given the US’s history of violence on the Korean peninsula, these appeals reflect the trauma, death, and war that happened in the past and continues to this day.  The truth about this violence has been buried for decades beneath revisionist rhetoric about “freedom,” and “democracy.”  This same rhetoric of “freedom fighting,” in turn, drives the narrative of Homefront and its appeals to violence towards North Korea.  As the game shows Koreans brutally massacring Americans and bulldozing them into mass graves, one cannot help but feel that the dismissal of Korean War atrocities continues today with the same rhetoric, the same rationale.

 

Kwok Sa Jin is a Korean Amerasian activist focused on Korean social justice issues in the USA and South Korea.  In 2003, he coordinated a study for the South Korean National Human Rights Commission, "The Status of Korean Amerasians."  In 2009, he traveled to North Korea as part of the DPRK Exposure and Education Program.  He is currently based in Seoul, where he works with the Korean Amerasian Alliance for National Reunification.

 

 

 

 

Fong Lee: the human cost and the strength of his family

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: September 28, 2010 - 11:19 PM

 

 

 

 

Almost exactly a year ago, I was amongst a large group of local and national community members who had organized a benefit concert for the Hmong teenager, Fong Lee, who was killed in North Minneapolis by police officer Jason Andersen.  Lee was riding bikes with friends near Cityview Elementary when Andersen and his partner approached the youth in their squad car.  The officers chased the young men.  Eventually Lee was separated from the others, and was shot eight times by Andersen, in the back as he ran and then into his body as he lay dying on the ground.

 

Lee’s family was present last year at that benefit concert, which we organized to help raise awareness on Fong Lee’s death and also raise money to cover legal costs for the Lee family as they pursued a case against Officer Andersen, claiming he used excessive force.

 

Back then, me and my partner’s first child was still in the womb, about two weeks before the expected date of birth.  We joked that our baby seemed to like hip hop, as baby seemed to turn and kick inside her mama at this event and others like it.  I remember how powerful it felt, to be in a space with many different people and communities who had come together for the Lee family and to seek justice in cases of police brutality.  I remember the slide show of Fong Lee that the family showed at the event, how it humanized him: the picture that most mainstream press used of Fong Lee made him look like a gangster.  But the Lee family slideshow painted a different picture – a kid who went fishing with his family, went to the mall with his friends, who sometimes wore traditional Hmong clothes and sometimes wore Minnesota Vikings gear.  I remember admiring how strong the Lee family was, for enduring such a tragic loss and to have to deal, publicly, with the injustice inflicted on their family. 

 

A year later, and community members, activists, and members of the Lee family are meeting once again to talk about what’s next.  My engagement with this movement has been admittedly sporadic since the benefit concert – it happened two weeks before baby was born.  People who know me, know that I have been in “babyland”, learning how to be a father with me and my partner’s first child.  Our baby is almost a year old, and usually she’s good in public, but on this night she’s fussy and restless, so as my partner helps facilitate the meeting I take our baby out into a hallway so she can crawl around and chuckle without being disruptive.  I am looking at her, this glorious little bundle of joy, amazed to think how she grew in her mama’s womb to become this tiny creature sitting on the carpet furrowing her brow at a wrinkly package she can’t figure out how to open. 

 

Shoua Lee, Fong Lee’s sister, comes out of the meeting for a short break, and stops by to say hello to us.  She admires my daughter, her beauty and her relative calm, and says she looks like her mother.  We talk a little while about kids, and family.  And I’m looking at my baby daughter as we speak, her large head slowly turning, oblivious to our conversation, her wide open eyes taking in everything.


And it’s at this moment that I am reminded of what a horrifying loss the Lee family has suffered, and what they continue to endure.

 

I wrote in-depth about this case and my own experiences about a year ago, which you can read here:

 

http://www.startribune.com/yourvoices/62606027.html

 

I don’t have much to add in that regard, nor do I feel like it’s within my ability to offer an in-depth analysis of the legal system and the case over the past year.  Ron Edwards, an African American community leader and former head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Urban League, who has been following the case since day one, has written a couple of excellent posts over at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, including this one:

 

http://www.spokesman-recorder.com/news/Article/Article.asp?sID=16&NewsID=105048

 

And here’s one from Hmong Today that includes eyewitness reports not included in the Minneapolis internal investigation:

 

http://www.hmongtoday.com/Finding_Justice1.aspx

 

 

In brief, the court denied Officer Andersen used excessive force in the killing of Fong Lee.  They announced this without waiting for the Lee family to return from lunch break.  The family returned from lunch to find the courtroom doors locked, and a guard telling them the trial was over.

 

The family tried to appeal this decision – that appeal was recently denied.

 

So that’s why we found ourselves, again, meeting to figure out what’s next.  Shoua smiles at me and the baby, then gets up and rejoins the meeting.  Baby crawls after her for a short while, then sits up, putting her small hands together, and looks at me. 

 

Then the case falls away, and the facts and the arguments seem to all be a distraction.  I am left wondering how a parent survives the horrific death of their child.  And how they would find the strength to endure it, to still fight for what they believe is right, for this idea of justice for their slain son.  Tonight, our baby got upset because I took a toy away from her to get her ready for bedtime, and tears ran down her cheeks.  Let me tell you, I am not a religious person, nor am I the type of person that would overly indulge or spoil my child.  But when I see those tears, I am ready to kneel down in front of whatever deity is convenient and beg forgiveness for my sins, if in exchange whatever higher power could take the sadness away from my little baby.

 

Now imagine what Fong Lee’s family is going through.  Whatever you may think of this case, put yourself in the Lee’s family’s place and consider their perspective.  They lost their son in a case full of contradictions, suspicious facts, and errors.  The officer who killed their son, under investigation for numerous acts of excessive force especially against young men of color, is exonerated of charges.  The judge, assuring them that they have time for lunch, does not bother to wait for them to return before announcing the verdict and locking the doors.  Your son, your brother, has been shot eight times and there’s no bringing him back.  And there seems like there will be no justice.  Just imagine that.  If you can.

 

Despite the devastation of losing their family member to violence and the prolonged agony of seeking justice through the justice system, the Lee family has been positive, strong, and courageous.  At meetings, they make sure everyone has water and food, they ask how you’re doing, they ask about your family, they smile and try to remain upbeat and calm even when they are told the odds are against them.  They are patient when conversations need to be translated into Hmong and English.  They smile, they thank you for your involvement, they are positive and strong even though they are struggling against a system set up to protect the man who killed their son.

 

Local communities from all walks of life have been supportive of the Lee family and one amazing thing to come out of this is the solidarity people have shown across communities.  Now is the time for national Asian American leadership and activists to step up.  It’s time for the academics, intelligentsia, bloggers and reporters to write about and raise awareness around Fong Lee’s tragic death. It’s time for the Asian American politicians and political groups to make public statements of support and show the Lee family that they have an entire nation of people behind them. And it’s time for the Asian American poets, artists, rappers, and musicians to create work, to breath life into this movement and make sure Lee is remembered, and that this terrible tragedy is pondered beyond this time and place.

 

Information on the rally and press conference below. 

 

WHAT Press Conference and Rally to announce the Lee family’s decision to appeal their wrongful death suit against the Minneapolis Police Department to the Supreme Court.   The Lee family has retained the law firm Hilliard, Muñoz, Gonzales (http://hmglawfirm.com/) in the shooting death of their teenage son Fong Lee by Minneapolis police officer Jason Andersen, who was recently fired because of a federal indictment in another brutality charge.

 

WHEN  Saturday, October 2, 1:00 p.m.

 

WHERE Cityview Elementary School, where Fong Lee was killed.

3350 North 4th Street

Minneapolis, MN 55412

 

WHO This press conference is being organized by the Justice for Fong Lee Committee and the family of Fong Lee.  Family members and Janelle Yang, the legal contact for the family, will be making statements about the appeal.  Community organizations and leaders will also be making statements of support.

 

WHY  The family and community were shocked and angered by the 2009 verdict in their wrongful death suit as well as the district court’s recent denial for an appeal.  They view these decisions as part of a growing pattern of police misconduct and lack of accountability in the Twin Cities. Under new representation from the firm Hilliard, Muñoz, Gonzales, the Lee family is appealing their wrongful death suit to the Supreme Court. 

 

BACKGROUND:

On July 22, 2006, Hmong teenager Fong Lee was with a group of friends riding bikes near the North Minneapolis Cityview Elementary School when Minneapolis police officers chased them across the playground.  Officer Jason Andersen shot Fong Lee eight times, in the back, side, and then five more shots into Lee’s chest as he lay on the ground.  Andersen stated he was justified in the killing, claiming that Lee pointed a gun at him.  He was cleared by the MPD’s internal investigation even though neighborhood eyewitnesses were not interviewed, many of whom contradicted the police officers' version of events in community press reports.

In 2009 the family of Fong Lee brought a wrongful death lawsuit again the City of Minneapolis and Jason Andersen, citing surveillance cameras that showed Fong Lee did not have a gun and evidence that demonstrated that the gun found at the scene had been in police custody, suggesting that the gun had been planted.  When an all-white jury found that Anderson had not used “excessive force” in killing 19-year old Fong Lee, community members held numerous rallies to continue to demand justice in what they saw as a police cover-up.

The family has since appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for a new trial, which has been denied.  Now, under the representation of Hilliard, Muñoz, and Gonzales, the family of Fong Lee is taking their case to the Supreme Court, in hopes that national attention will result in a new trial of this egregious police action. 

            Jason Andersen was first in the media’s eye with his shooting death of Fong Lee but he has remained a contentious member of the Minneapolis police force.  In September 2009 Police Chief Tim Dolan fired Andersen for violating the department’s ethics policy because of a dropped domestic assault charge.  A state arbitrator returned Andersen to the force after the police union grieved the firing.  Andersen is currently being indicted on federal charges for allegedly abusing a black teenager while part of the notorious and now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force. On September 22, 2010 he was fired for a second time for violating the department’s code on “truthfulness” about this incident in which he allegedly kicked the teen in the head.

 

      

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