In the past year, we have witnessed many hateful and violent acts against Asian and Asian American Pacific Islander communities. The organization Stop AAPI Hate has reported 3,795 incidents from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021 across the United States, including verbal attacks, vandalism, and physical assaults. The rise in anti-Asian violence and discrimination has reached an apex in recent months. This week, a white gunman executed a mass shooting at three spas in Georgia, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent. Although the details of this tragedy are still being investigated, it reminds us that these types of vicious assaults are only the most recent and most visible examples of how Asian Americans have been targeted throughout our history because of their race. The intersectionality of the victims must be acknowledged here as well. According to Stop AAPI Hate, Asian women have reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men. Many posit that Asian women appear as easier targets due to how they are portrayed in society and media. There has also been an emphasis on whether the victims of the Georgia shooting were working in the sex trade, which unearths a variety of stereotypes about Asian women and massage parlors. When violent crimes occur against women, the focus has been on their behavior, their profession, and their dress. This victim blaming must stop.
We must join together to condemn these horrific acts and those against other communities of color as well. We must denounce all acts of hate and violence against Asian and AAPI communities and stand in solidarity with our Asian and AAPI sisters. #StopAAPIHate
Sadly, our country is no stranger to anti-Asian sentiment. Asian communities have suffered in public and private spaces in America for centuries. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Japanese internment camps, Asian Americans have a long history of being perceived as threats. Amidst the pandemic devastating our country, they are scapegoated with xenophobic terms like “Kung Flu” and “China virus.” We need to break this escalating pattern. To begin, we must educate ourselves to go beyond assumptions and stereotypes, reexamining AAPI perspectives that were glossed over in school or not taught at all. We should delve into our history to see how deep-rooted these anti-Asian sentiments really are in American culture in order to reject them and create a future without hate.
Dating back to the 1800s, anti-Asian sentiments in the United States led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Scott Act, and eventually, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. As attorneys, we should all know about two Supreme Court cases that stand out in our history for their roles in affirming mistreatment of Asian Americans, Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581 (1889), and Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944).
Chae Chan Ping v. United States presented a challenge to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Scott Act. Ping argued that these laws were unconstitutional because they canceled all certificates of residence and prevented any Chinese people who had previously resided in the United States from returning. When Ping, who had previously lived and worked in the U.S. for twelve years, returned from a trip to China one week after the Scott Act’s passage, his papers were declared null and void; he was detained and denied reentry. In the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Jay Field portrayed Chinese immigrants as a threat to American civilization, reasoning that they refused to assimilate into American culture and out-competed white laborers. The Court ultimately upheld the lower court’s decision stating that any certification held by Chinese immigrants prior to the passage of the Scott Act “is held at the will of the government, revocable at any time, at its pleasure.” Whether such amendments are within the national interest or are at all constitutional “are not questions for judicial determination.” Although not the only case challenging the Chinese Exclusion Act, Ping handed down precedent of judicial deference to federal immigration policy, known as the “plenary power doctrine,” which continues to shape United States immigration policy today.
In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld internment camps as legal, despite recognizing the limitation of civil liberties and applying strict scrutiny for possible racial discrimination. It was not until 73 years later that the Supreme Court finally overruled the 1944 decision. Ironically, the decades-delayed acknowledgement was embedded in the majority opinion of Trump v. Hawaii, where the Court upheld the Trump administration’s Muslim ban for national security reasons. Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392 (2018). Chief Justice John Roberts writes that Korematsu “was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—has no place in law under the Constitution.”
Stories of anti-Asian sentiments hit close to home as well. We are not insulated from such white supremacy here in Colorado. Today, the only remnant of Denver’s Chinatown, also pejoratively called “Hop Alley,” is a commemorative plaque on the corner of Blake and 20th Streets. Chinese laborers were invited to move to the area by the Colorado Territorial Legislature. By 1871, anti-Chinese acts began to rise, fueled by whites who feared the loss of their jobs to laborers moving from California. Tensions erupted in 1880, resulting in a riot that destroyed Chinatown and killed a man, Sing Lee. In southeastern Colorado, over 10,000 Japanese and Japanese American individuals were forced into internment at the Amache-Granada Relocation Center. Nearly two-thirds of internees were American citizens. Governor Ralph L. Carr stood out among western governors in welcoming internees into his state while opposing relocation policies. The Denver Post, took advantage of every opportunity to run negative stories on Amache and the internees, with derogatory and xenophobic terms frequently appearing in its headlines.
Hard work remains ahead for our nation and our bar association. Our greatest strength lies in our many dreams, many talents, and how we come together during difficult times. We must confront deeply rooted racism, systemic inequities, and the way fear has affected the way we treat one another. This is a call for action to all CWBA members to embrace a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in personal and professional life that goes beyond simple social media posts. Members should unify in support of the CWBA’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee, its mission, its goals, and its events. Members should be welcoming to diverse CWBA members, go to DEI trainings, and stand up to incidents of hate. We must stop subscribing to the use of the so-called “model minority” myth as a racial wedge to divide communities of color against each other. We must address the fundamental inequities that are built into a system that reinforces institutionalized racism so that we can promote understanding, caring, and true community safety.
Hate and fear should have no place in our society. We as allies to the AAPI community must raise our voices in solidarity and stop being bystanders to racism and hate crimes. It is time to be upstanders for our AAPI communities and other communities of color.
We call on our community to support the Asian and AAPI communities through these actions recommended by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado:
Report hate crimes and hate incidents
Educate and inform others of violence against AAPIs
Attend a bystander training
Raise awareness about mental health offerings for AAPI individuals
Protect Asian elders
Raise funds to empower AAPI individuals and businesses
Veronique Van Gheem is Senior Assistant Legal Counsel for the Colorado Judicial Department. Ms. Van Gheem works in the Executive Division of the State Court Administrator’s Office providing general advisory counsel for the Colorado courts, probation departments and the State Court Administrator. She is a Chair of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Publication Committee. She is also a member of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee, the CBA Spanish Speaking Lawyers Committee and a Lead Attorney for the Project Safeguard Spanish-speaking Family Law Clinic. Any views or opinions reflected in this publication do not reflect the position of the Colorado Office of the State Court Administrator or the Colorado Judicial Department.