The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) held a press conference on June 5th in the aftermath of George Floyd’s recent death. Floyd was an unarmed Black man who died two weeks ago on May 25th. A white police officer killed him after kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes outside of a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference featured a number of speakers: Congresswoman Judy Chu, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Bao Vang, Bo Thao-Urabe, Lakshmi Sridaran, and Tavae Samuelu. In each of their statements, these APIA leaders expressed solidarity with and support for the Black community.
Congresswoman Chu opened the conference by strongly condemning the murder. As the Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, she called for increased accountability of police actions and justice for Floyd’s death. She also referenced the history of Asians in America. From the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, to today’s sharp increase in anti-Asian hate crimes related to COVID-19, Asian Americans are very familiar with discrimination. We may have different experiences than those of Black Americans, but we both have histories of oppression. Recently, Black Congressional caucuses joined APIA leaders to fight discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their support will be reciprocated because “our unity is our strength,” said Congresswoman Chu.
Another notable speaker was Bo Thao-Urabe, the Executive Director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders. This is a social justice organization based in Minnesota, the state where Floyd died. A key part of Ms. Thao-Urabe’s statement was her discussion of Tou Thao, the Hmong American police officer who stood by during Floyd’s death. Thao was recently charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. In her statement, Ms. Thao-Urabe explained that Thao’s involvement in the crime symbolizes the consequences of white supremacy, which divides racial minorities and fuels tensions between Asian American and Black communities. We must reflect on Thao’s complicit behavior, and if we truly believe that Black lives matter, support their community. Intersectionality is inherent within the goals of Asian and Black Americans.
The final speaker was Tavae Samuelu, the Executive Director of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities. She described several examples of how Asian Americans are connected to this issue. On one hand, the owner of the store where Floyd reportedly paid with a counterfeit bill and a police officer involved in Floyd’s death are of Asian descent. On the other hand, Asian Americans have shown support for and encouraged protests in the aftermath. Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi restaurant owner, memorably said, “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served,” as his business was engulfed by flames during the Minneapolis riots. Ms. Samuelu suggested that we look to Ruhel Islam and others as a precedent of the solidarity we must have with the Black community.
The conference carried an overall theme of unity, which racial minorities need at this time. As speaker Ms. Thao-Urabe said, “This is our moment to not just dream big, but push forward in solidarity.” Asian and Black Americans do not face identical racisms, but we have common goals, and we should work through the layers of oppression together. Our communities cannot be complacent in a society that does not view all races as equal.
Read another intern’s thoughts about the press conference here.