March 29, 2021
From Popular Resistance

Above photo: Hundreds march to Chinatown for a rally against anti-Asian hate in Philadelphia on March 27, 2021. Kenny Cooper/WHYY.

Responding to the spike in anti-Asian violence, Philadelphia joined scores of communities across the country Saturday in a National Day of Action Against Asian Hate launched by the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition.

“We have a lot of community support, and we’re expecting hundreds of participants … at Franklin Square,” said Echo Alford, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Liberation Center and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which coordinated the afternoon event with the support of about a dozen other local organizations. That estimate proved to be accurate.

Early in the rally, which began at noon and lasted until shortly before 3 p.m., organizers told the story of Christian Hall, a 19-year-old who was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was fatally shot seven times by Pennsylvania State Police in the Poconos on Dec. 30. A vigil is planned for Hall in South Philly’s Mifflin Square Park at 7 p.m. on March 30, the three-month anniversary of his death. A website has also been created in his honor.

Tina Ngo, a member of the two groups that organized Saturday’s gathering, said it took a couple of days for her to grasp the impact of the violence that unfolded in Atlanta earlier this month, with six Asian women among the eight people killed in a series of mass shootings.

“And then I felt angry because obviously this is not just an individual problem, right? Because it goes further than that. It’s a systemic issue of racism, of misogyny, of sexism,” Ngo said.

With that in mind, Ngo figured that the violence in Atlanta would not be the last of it.

“Ultimately, I reached this conclusion that the people can no longer be reacting to these tragedies, because we can’t just wait for them to happen,” Ngo said.

In Philadelphia on Wednesday, an Asian American worker was assaulted outside a store.

For the organizers of Saturday’s protest, anti-Asian violence, white supremacy, U.S. imperialism, militarism, and capitalism are all tied together.

“We wanted to make it inherently political, because we see the political messages in having such an event. And we hope that we can push our communities to realize the conditions that they live in, and to be able to join us … not just out in the streets, but in organizing our neighborhoods against these violent acts as well,” Ngo said.

Another point of emphasis in the organizing of Saturday’s event was the role of the news media.

“I think we’ve seen the media, sort of the mainstream media, really struggle to understand these attacks,” said Jasper Saah, another volunteer with the Philadelphia Liberation Center and a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

In addition, according to the organizers, the media have played a detrimental part in perpetuating harmful myths about the Asian community. Saah said the way mainstream news outlets report on China-U.S. relations and COVID-19 has created an atmosphere of anti-Asian fearmongering.

“We’re being continually painted as the silent population that is only now waking up to this because of these hate crimes, and that’s the way that the media continues to perpetuate the model minority myth,” Ngo said.

Brandon Bao had seen several flyers about the event and others like it circulating.

“But what resonated with me on this one is that this one’s directly targeting also the, you know, the overwhelming negative press against China right now,” Bao said.

Bao believes that there is a connection between the spike in anti-Asian violence and the media portrayal of China.

As the crowd marched to the intersection of Eighth and Arch streets toward Chinatown, the organizers of the protest reiterated the connection of anti-Asian violence with white supremacy, U.S. imperialism, militarism, and capitalism.

“We are not immune to propaganda,” one speaker said.

Wai Lee Chin Feman, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Liberation Center, attended the event with the hope of finding answers.

“This spike in hate crimes has triggered some political responses, but as far as I can tell, not ones that understand the true root of the problem, and therefore ones which don’t make me feel very hopeful about building a solution that will actually work to keep our Asian elders and others safe,” Feman said.

Since the December shooting of Hall by Pennsylvania State Police on a Monroe County overpass, several demonstrations have taken place to call attention to it. But speakers at the Philadelphia rally sought to elevate the story in an attempt to seek justice for what transpired in the Poconos.

“To this day, we still don’t have dashcam footage. To this day, we don’t have body cam footage. There’s been no transparency in the death of Christian Hall. There’s been no accountability in the death of Christian Hall,” said a speaker identified only as TC, from the group Justice for Christian Hall. “And we’re asking for the state attorney general of Pennsylvania to take up this investigation from the [Monroe] County DA.”

Cory Moy said he brought his family with him Saturday to help them understand racial injustice in America.

“I’m also a teacher, and so in case my students are here also, I hope they see that their teachers are showing their faces in these places as well,” Moy said.

After the attacks in Atlanta, Grace Ahn had the urge to organize. She had heard about this protest and reached out to the organizers. They asked if she could address the crowd and share her experiences as an Asian American.

As a mother, she decided to speak to set an example for her young daughter.

“Because it’s so important for me to show my daughter that there is solidarity and community and it’s important to speak your voice and stand for what you believe … and to be proud of being Asian,” Ahn said.

Growing up within a white community, Ahn said she often faced an identity crisis.

“And I don’t want to do that anymore. And I don’t want her to do that,” Ahn said. “So I felt really good to be here with everyone to declare my proudness of being Asian and to show her that there is a community of people who will fight for the same cause.”

As a solution, Ahn said, people have to uphold the momentum.

Ultimately, the organizers wanted this day of action to be more than just a gathering of people standing in solidarity. They also want to build long-lasting connections to ensure that vulnerable communities have access to resources.

“Those are always our goals, not just getting a bunch of people out into the park,” Saah said.