The outrage that ensued has been important. At least one vigil was held in [Charleena Lyles’] honor and covered by local media, hundreds chanted “Say her name!” while marching for her, countless articles have been written about her, and a GoFundMe set up for her children has raised over $100,000… When it comes to focusing our attention on those who are killed by police officers, do Black lives matter more than Asian lives?… I have strongly supported and defended the Black Lives Matter movement. But now I’m wondering: Do Vietnamese lives matter? Do Asian lives matter? Where is the outrage and empathy?”
– Excerpt from “Do Asian Lives Matter? Contemplating Disparate Coverage of Charleena Lyles’s and Tommy Le’s Deaths” by Alyssa W. Christensen
In response to the piece excerpted above, I’d like to start by providing some context. The national outrage for Charleena Lyles is the result of immense organizing and emotional labor by black folks. Black Lives Matter was co-created by three black queer women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors. The call to “say her name” comes from efforts to bring attention to violence against Black women in the United States. Specifically, the African American Policy Forum put out a brief titled “Say Her Name,” which is intended to “serve as a resource for the media, organizers, researchers, policy makers, and other stakeholders to better understand and address Black women’s experiences of profiling and policing.” In the words of Kimberle Crenshaw, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and co-author of the report: “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.”
Without movements like Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name, our mainstream media and national consciousness would not be where they’re at today. These movements, and the countless individual activists and organizers who make up these movements, make sure that we know about Charleena Lyles and Philando Castile. They urge us to remember Sandra Bland and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. They push us to fight for trans black women like Eyricka King. This work far from done. Often, when Kimberle Crenshaw speaks to audiences, she’ll start by asking people to raise their hands if they’ve heard of Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Rekia Boyd. As she continues to call out names – Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson – fewer and fewer hands remain raised, and eventually maybe just one or two people in a room of 100 will have recognized all of these names.
I don’t think the question is whether Black lives matter more than Asian lives. Black Lives Matter is about centering Black lives; and Say Her Name was created to draw attention to Black women who are targeted by police brutality. Everyone should support and defend Black Lives Matter, because it is the right thing to do, not because we are waiting for something in return.
I recognize the author’s pain in realizing that stories like Tommy Le’s are glossed over or generally ignored by mainstream media. What can we do about it? How can the APIDA community take the lead in putting pressure on media to cover these stories? How can we take the lead in uplifting our own stories and narratives? How can we lead or support work already being done to provide community alternatives to policing?
I don’t have all the answers, but I appreciate that the author reached out to one of their favorite local news sources and questioned them on their lack of reporting on Tommy Le. I can put pressure on local media when they fail to report on stories that matter to me, and I can throw my support behind media or organizations who are uplifting those stories (nationally, that might include AAJC and NAPAWF; locally in Minnesota, for example, that includes RadAzns and CAAL). I can organize a screening and discussion of Vincent Who? in my community. I can diversify my news sources and follow different voices on social media, especially those from marginalized communities.
The APIDA community has a rich history of organizing and activism, something that I only began to learn about in the handful of Asian American Studies courses I was able to take as a college student. For folks looking to learn more, I’d recommend checking out this quick history on Asian American activism, and books like Dr. Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America, and biographies from Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama.
“If these histories are erased and buried, each generation feels a little more alone, like we are starting from scratch. I hope people see how the past informs not only today’s movements, but our futures.” – Ryan Wong, one of the curators of the exhibition “Roots: Asian American Movements in Los Angeles 1968–80s” at the Los Angeles Chinese American Museum
Addendum on July 20: Tommy Le’s family has created a YouCaring page and are asking for support to help with funeral and legal expenses in the coming months as they continue to fight for justice for Tommy. (h/t Mark Tseng-Putterman for the link)