Photo by Patrick Rosal
In the wake of the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown, an open letter undersigned by Asian American writers and scholars was published on November 26th at the website APIA Writers for Ferguson. The letter includes signatures by APIA writers Maxine Hong Kingston, Chang-rae Lee, Jeff Chang, Jessica Hagedorn, and many others -- including Hyphen's own Fiction and Poetry Editor Karissa Chen -- and currently has over 400 signatures.
The full text of the open letter is as follows:
We, the undersigned, are Asian-American writers and scholars. We are
very aware of the ways a story is told. We are also keenly and painfully
aware of the ways a story gets untold.
18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed last summer by a police
officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His body was left out in the street for
four and a half hours. We are deeply troubled by repeated miscarriages
of justice against people of color, not the least of which is the grand
jury’s recent failure to deliver even a minimum indictment of Darren
Wilson — all this given just a few widely accepted (if not irrefutable)
pieces of information. Just to begin with:
- Michael Brown was unarmed.
- There is conflicting testimony on record about the actual
confrontation, and Wilson’s version of the story appears to have been
privileged in this case, a testimony which refers to Michael Brown in
- The Medical Examiner seems to not have taken pictures at the crime scene.
- There is widespread concern that grand juries, too frequently,
refuse to indict in cases of police shootings. Fivethirtyeight.com
reports: “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys
prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which
we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of
them.” That is, there is statistical evidence that prosecutors seeking
indictments get them — unless it’s a cop. There is a historical pattern
of not holding officers accountable in the justice system, while the
burden of proof remains with the families and communities of the victims
of these police shootings. Too often these are families and communities
The killing of Michael Brown is just one case among many. We are
outraged by the state violence against young black and brown men and the
less noticed but equally distressing state violence against black and
brown women. We are dissatisfied with an unjust system and dominant
culture that continues to craft false narratives around our African
American, Latino, and Native American brothers and sisters – similar to
the construction of false narratives about Asian Americans.
The myth of the model minority, for example, has sought to pit us
against each other, even though some of us have a long history of mutual
support and collaboration across racial lines. We can’t overstate this:
the rich, productive, complicated relationships across boundaries among
Asian, Latino, and African-American people are too often poorly
represented or entirely erased. It may not appear in the official
record, but we squabble and we love. The evidence of this suppressed
history very often finds its way into the poems, novels, talk-stories,
plays, kitchen gossip, and movies that we are making – works of art that
are often ignored or dismissed.
We live in an American culture of privilege and disregard, and we
want things to change. We share the feelings of helplessness and
frustration rising now across the country about the tragic death of
Michael Brown. We share the anger and sorrow of our time.
APIA writers and scholars are invited to sign and share the open letter here, in solidarity with Ferguson and Michael Brown's family.