Human Rights Watch Film Festival Presents “Down A Dark Stairwell” Film Screening and Q&A Session

On June 17, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is hosting a digital film screening and discussion for the film, Down a Dark Stairwell. Directed by Ursula Liang, the film follows the events that occurred after November 20, 2014, when a Chinese-American police officer, Peter Liang, killed an innocent, unarmed Black man, Akai Gurley. Liang became the first New York Police Department officer to be convicted of an on-duty shooting in over a decade. His sentence sparked protests in both the Asian-American and African-American communities and highlighted the systemic inequities of our criminal justice system.

Down a Dark Stairwell is available on the Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s website until June 20. On June 17, the Film Festival will host a film screening at 6:30 PM EDT and a live Q&A session at 8:00 PM EDT moderated by Gerry Johnson, Editor & Senior strategist at the Human Rights Watch, and featuring filmmaker Ursula Liang; Brandon D. Anderson, founder of Raheem.ai, a website for reporting police conduct in the United States; and Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigrant Coalition. To register for the Q&A discussion, see https://primetime.bluejeans.com/a2m/register/cjjcedqp.

Chris Kwok, Chair of the Issues Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY), also appears in the film and will host an online discussion about the issues it raises on June 25 at 6:00 PM. To register for this event, see https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1391903.

Member Profile: Chris Kwok Reconstructs the Hidden Narratives of Asian America

In response to the anti-Asian violence and harassment exacerbated by COVID-19, Chris Kwok has created important spaces for the APIA community to address and heal from these discriminatory acts. As Chair of the Issues Committee of AABANY, Chris has organized numerous panels and discussions to educate individuals about the history of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia relating to public health crises, and has co-authored an op-ed for the New York Daily News on the topic.

Born in China, Chris moved to the United States in 1979, where his family was among the first wave of Asian immigrants to settle in Flushing. He had always been interested in history and was able to focus on Chinese and Asian American history as an undergraduate at Cornell. He then went on to UCLA Law School to continue his developing interest in civil rights and critical race theory. Chris served as a mediator for the New York District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Chris also served on the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and was the founding chair of the Asian American Pacific Islander Network. Currently, he is a mediator of labor and employment disputes at JAMS.

The idea that Asian Americans are carriers of disease is not new–it is deeply rooted in Western and American thought. Chris cites the bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco in the early 1900s as an example of APIA communities being subjected to similar hatred and discrimination we see today. In order to better understand and combat the anti-Asian violence and rhetoric from COVID-19, and also to become better citizens and community members, Asian Americans must be aware of their own history in this country. Unfortunately, Asian American history is not mainstream: this education is not taught but must be self-directed. Through his programs and discussions, Chris hopes to share this under-acknowledged history and “reconstruct the narratives that are hidden in plain sight for most Asian Americans.” 

Over the past two months, Chris has organized and been featured in many events addressing anti-Asian violence and harassment. On April 3, he led a panel discussion through the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) that aimed to educate Asian American lawyers on the history of using public health concerns to justify anti-Asian sentiments. On April 20, Chris participated in a virtual town hall with Alvin Bragg, former Chief Deputy at the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where he spoke to a larger audience about multi-racial coalition building to combat all types of hate crimes. Chris also spoke on a panel for the Asian American Arts Alliance on May 19, where he discussed the rise in COVID-19 hate crimes and how Asian American artists have the power to retell the lost narratives of the APIA community in American history. On May 28, Chris gave the introductory remarks for a panel responding to a virtual trial reenactment of the Vincent Chin case, where he highlighted the relevance of Vincent Chin’s murder in the current environment of anti-Asian harassment and violence. Finally, Chris served as a panelist for the Thomson Reuters Asian Affinity Network on May 28, where he spoke to a corporate audience about the need to build consciousness and address these anti-Asian sentiments in a setting where conversations about diversity and inclusion are generally more constrained.

From the responses he has received from the discussions and panels, Chris has realized that Asian Americans yearn for a space to have these conversations about their histories and identities. The political and social culture that Asian Americans live in limits their opportunities to talk through experiences with discrimination, especially within a public sphere. Chris highlighted that many Asian Americans, given the current context of George Floyd’s murder and the greater Black Lives Matter protests, do not believe they should speak out about their own experiences of anti-Asian violence and harassment. There is no question that the Black community faces longer, systemic, and deadly forms of discrimination. But this does not mean that Asian Americans must be apologetic when talking about their own experiences with racism or stop having conversations addressing their own histories and identities. Rather, the APIA community can show solidarity with the Black community and recognize the experiences of African Americans, while also fighting against and raising awareness of anti-Asian sentiments. Both of these conversations can occur at the same time, as long as Asian Americans acknowledge the context and connection of their experiences to those of the Black community.

Finally, Chris stressed that the APIA community must never stop talking about their history and the prevalence of anti-Asian violence and harassment. Everyone has a different role to play in fighting discrimination and hatred against the APIA community: some may lead important conversations and movements, while others may financially contribute to community groups. Each individual must do “one more thing than what they’re doing already,” as their efforts may inspire others to do the same. When Asian Americans have discussions about their identities and histories, they raise greater consciousness of Asian American issues and contribute to ending these acts of anti-Asian violence and hatred.

We thank Chris Kwok for facilitating much-needed conversations within AABANY and the greater APIA community. Chris will be speaking on a panel for the 2020 Federal Bar Association Eastern District of New York Diversity Forum: The Impact of COVID-19 on Minority Communities on June 23, 2020. To register for this event, see https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1386519.  For more information on the Issues Committee, see https://www.aabany.org/page/154.

In The News: Chris Kwok’s Op-Ed on Weaponized Coronavirus Language Against Asian-Americans Published in the New York Daily News

On March 26, 2020, the New York Daily News published an op-ed co-authored by Chris Kwok. The piece is entitled “Weaponized coronavirus language is endangering Asian-American lives.” (Chris, who sits on the AABANY Board and chairs the Issues Committee, co-wrote the op-ed in his capacity as a Board member of the Asian American Federation).

The article discusses how anti-Asian rhetoric and labeling the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” is endangering the lives of Asian Americans across the United States. It also provides historical examples of what happens when you link a disease to a particular group of people. It can easily lead to stigma and violence against that group. For example, in the 14th century, Jews were accused of spreading the Bubonic Plague in Europe and massacred. Similarly, in the 1980s to 1990s gay people were blamed for spreading AIDS and suffered violence as a result.

Furthermore, the article notes that this is not the first time Asian Americans have faced something like this in the United States. In the 1850s to 1890s, the Chinese were accused of being carriers of venereal disease and leprosy. As a result of the openly anti-Chinese rhetoric during that period, Chinese people were “…rounded up into thousands of railroad cars, steamers, or logging rafts, marched out of town, or killed.”

Now, history seems to be repeating itself as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is falsely being attributed to Asian Americans. In recent weeks we have seen a spike in xenophobic incidents targeting Asian Americans throughout the nation. Such incidents include “…Asian Americans being beaten, slashed, kicked, spat at, sprayed with things, yelled at or ostracized in public.” To make matters worse, President Trump’s deliberate campaign to label the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” has put Asian Americans at an even higher risk.

To read the full article, click here.

AABANY Hosts February Monthly Membership Mixer at Atwood

On Wednesday, February 19, 2020, AABANY’s Membership Committee, together with Corporate, Issues, Litigation, Solo & Small Firm Practice, and Professional Development Committees hosted a Membership Mixer with members, colleagues, and friends at Atwood Bar & Lounge in Midtown East. Over twenty attendees filled a private section reserved for our group. Our membership programs provide opportunities to network and to learn more about AABANY by meeting current members and leaders. Keep an eye out for our future events including an outing to see “West Side Story” on Broadway on March 19. To learn more about the Membership Committee, go to https://www.aabany.org/page/130

Chinese American Veterans of World War II Honored with Congressional Gold Medal

On December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act into law. The Act finally recognizes the achievements and contributions of Chinese Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Second World War.

The bill passed due to the efforts of everyone involved in the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project. The mission of the project was to recognize, honor and celebrate the military service of approximately 20,000 Chinese Americans who fought in the Second World War.

Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director, Issues Committee Chair and Asia Practice Committee Co-Chair, participated in the effort to get the legislation passed. Chris served on the Steering Committee of the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project and acted as Legal Counsel to the Committee.

Brian Song, AABANY President-Elect, and Chris Kwok, as AABANY Issues Committee Chair, also advocated for passage of the bill at NAPABA Lobby Day in Washington, DC, during APA Heritage Month in 2018.

AABANY commends Chris Kwok and Brian Song for their efforts and advocacy in support of getting this very important legislation passed.

To learn more, see: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/chinese-american-wwii-vets-receive-congressional-gold-medal-n950986

Serve the APA Community by Joining the AABANY Community Response Task Force

AABANY’s Issues Committee is pleased to invite you to join the newly formed AABANY Community Response Task Force!

The Community Response Task Force (CRTF) is AABANY’s answer to the rapidly changing legal landscape and the need for quick, effective, and coordinated responses to the emergent issues that affect our communities. AABANY is firmly committed to being a strong voice and steadfast advocate on behalf of the Asian-American/Pacific-Islander community. In the past several months, we have all been witness to sweeping changes that necessitated powerful legal responses. While there have been some great triumphs, there were often times when it was difficult to obtain information, to find ways to contribute, or to organize a response quickly enough to be effective.

The CRTF is specifically designed to address these needs. The CRTF will serve as a central clearinghouse for information and coordination – tailoring the alerts sent to each volunteer based on that volunteer’s preferences and the needs of the community. Alerts and actions will range from emergency legal services to direct non-legal service actions and from workshops to rallies. 

Furthermore, the CRTF will not simply be a reactive body but we will seek to proactively research and prepare for issues on the horizon by reaching out to experts and formulating effective responses. We will also be reaching out and collaborating with other organizing bodies in order to present a more united and broad-based response to issues that affect our communities.

So, where does that leave you?

The CRTF is seeking first and foremost to create a database of willing, ready, and able volunteers, like you, who want be a part of the response. We will activate volunteers based on the subject area, the type of response, and the interests of each volunteer. 

We are also looking for people to become members of the Task Force itself, helping to research and anticipate possible future issues, reaching out to experts and developing toolkits, and coordinating with
other organizations.

If you are interested, please fill out the this form or feel free to email us directly at [email protected]

We keep all responses and information confidential in the Task Force Database. Information contained therein will not be shared with anyone outside of the Task Force and are solely for the purpose of organizing and coordinating Task Force activities.

To learn more about the Issues Committee, visit http://www.aabany.org/?page=154

Live Chat with the New York Times: Confronting Racism Against Asian-Americans

Live Chat with the New York Times: Confronting Racism Against Asian-Americans