Details about Richard Aoki's Death

March 10, 2010

It has been about a year since the passing of Richard Aoki, a student leader in the Ethnic Studies strike at UC Berkeley and field marshal of the Black Panther Party (one of the few Japanese/Asian Americans, at that). 

I recently learned of new details about his passing. Richard died almost a year ago on March 15, 2010. I wrote his news obituary in the local paper, the Oakland Tribune. At the time, the people I interviewed said he died of complications from dialysis, which is what I reported in the story.

The truth, I have learned, is that Richard died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The details of his death were apparently not known except for his close circle of friends until now. On his blog/memorial website, you will find a statement released by the Richard Aoki Memorial Committee, former Asian American Political Alliance members, Serve The People and friends of Richard Aoki explaining more about what led to his death. 

Truly, I was surprised and shocked to learn that he took his own life; but in many ways, it doesn't matter how he died. If you read the statement on the website, or if you met Richard Aoki later on in his life after his stroke and other debilitating health problems, you will know that he probably suffered a lot. The statement posted on the website and dated March 15, 2010 gives a pretty detailed account of his health problems and what likely led to his decision. Though no one knows for sure what he was thinking at the time, his close friends probably have a better idea than an outsider.

What's most important, I think, is to remember the things that Richard did do during his life. I encourage you to learn more about this man, if you have the chance. Mike Cheng and Ben Wang's film, AOKI, is about Richard Aoki and is playing at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival this month. To learn and read more about Richard Aoki, you can also visit his memorial website at


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



Very sad Rest In Power Comrade
thanks Momo again for being a people's journalist :) another thing i thought was also that our heroes are also human beings.  there is nothing shameful about brother aoki's passing that either needs to be blown out of proportion nor swept under the rug.  his life and death are all part of his legacy - it all good.  i mean that in sense of, everyone is perfect in their humanity (the sum total of all joys and pains) and deserve to celebrated unconditionally. and, there are so many ways to make meaning of suicide - only richard knows his meaning.  i could sit here as say it was a final act of bravery, of self determination, of asserting control over his destiny.  i could say that it was pain and sadness.  i could say it was selfish.  i could say it was selfless.  i prefer to leave the determination of meaning to richard.  i just sit here and observe, witness, and record (as buddhists say) without judgement - like water reflecting what is. here's to richard - we see you, we love you, its all good!
See Turns out the cause of his death wasn't his only secret...and not even the biggest one. One wonders what was real and what wasn't. BTW, you should probably change your wikipedia citation re his cause of death; it still cites the incorrect obituary.