Student Outreach Committee, Pro Bono Committee & AABANY Volunteers Promote Pro Bono Legal Clinic, Know Your Rights Resources, and AABANY’s Legal Referral and Information Service in Asian and Asian American Communities

On Saturday, September 4, 2021, the Student Outreach Committee and the Pro Bono and Community Service (PBCS) Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) returned to Asian and Asian American communities across New York City to promote PBCS’s newly-back in person Pro Bono Clinic and AABANY’s COVID-19 Legal Know-Your-Rights Resources as well as AABANY’s Legal Referral and Information Service (LRIS). 

The Brooklyn Chinatown volunteers were led by May Wong, Judy Lee and Kwok Ng of the PBCS Committee, the Koreatown volunteers were led by Victor Roh and Will Lee, a key leader and organizer of last year’s event, and the Manhattan Chinatown volunteers were led by Nicholas Loh and Dianna Lam, another key leader and organizer of last year’s event.

This campaign built off the energy and momentum of the initial flyering campaign held last year over the July 4 holiday weekend, during the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  This year’s campaign saw the addition of another community, Brooklyn Chinatown, and included over 40 volunteers from AABANY and law schools across the Greater New York area.

The results were impressive. Over 1,000 flyers in Chinese, Korean and English were distributed to local small businesses promoting AABANY’s Pro Bono Clinic, Know-Your-Rights information, and the LRIS. Our student volunteers had meaningful opportunities to interact with small business owners who have been hit hard by a staggering two years of anti-Asian hate and violence, COVID-19 business disruptions, and the devastating impact on Asian businesses as a result of xenophobia and racism. 

This event would not have been possible without the co-sponsorship of AABANY’s Student Outreach Committee, AABANY’s Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, AABANY’s Young Lawyers Committee, Asian Americans for Equality, APALSAs from all across the Greater New York area and Mayer Brown.

Read more about AABANY’s PBCS Committee and Pro Bono Clinic, about AABANY’s LRIS service here, HEART here, and Know Your Rights info here. Thanks to all the organizers, co-sponsors, and — especially — all the student volunteers.

Historical Society of the New York Courts and the Asian American Judges Association of New York Sponsor a Panel about AAPIs in the Judiciary, May 20

On May 20, the Historical Society of the New York Courts, the Asian American Judges Association of New York, and Meyer Suozzi English & Klein P.C. co-sponsored a panel discussion on the role of Asian Americans in the federal and state judiciary. The panelists of the event were Hon. Pamela K. Chen, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York and AABANY member; Hon. Toko Serita, New York State Acting Supreme Court Justice, Presiding Judge of the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court, and AABANY member; and Hon. Anil C. Singh, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department. Hon. Lillian Wan, New York State Acting Supreme Court Justice and AABANY member, moderated the panel.

New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore opened the event with a few remarks, thanking the panelists and acknowledging their trailblazing careers as Asian-Americans. Chief Judge DiFiore also emphasized the importance of remembering AAPI history and the United States’ legacy of racial exclusion against Asians. She then turned the program over to Judge Randall T. Eng. Judge Eng, Of Counsel at Meyer Suozzi and former Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, welcomed the attendees and shared his experiences as the first Asian American appointed to the bench in New York.

Judge Wan then introduced the panelists for the event, opening the discussion with a brief presentation on AAPI history from Hong Yen Chang and the Chinese Exclusion Act to the present day. After the presentation, each of the panelists introduced themselves and shared their backgrounds and paths to becoming judges. Judge Wan began the panel discussion, asking the panelists about their experiences as Asian Americans at the times of their confirmations. Many of the panelists recounted how there were very few, if not any, Asian American judges when they were appointed. Judge Chen recalled how her appointment was facilitated by Obama’s attempts to diversify the federal bench, while Judge Serita recounted her experiences as the first Japanese American appointed to her court.

Judge Wan moved on to the reasons behind the underrepresentation of AAPIs in the state and federal judiciary. All of the panelists cited lack of political engagement, the lack of a pipeline, and the general tendency of Asian lawyers to seek employment at corporate law firms. Judge Chen also brought up cultural barriers, touching on how Asians tend not to promote themselves and do not seek help even when needed.

Judge Wan shifted the topic to Asian stereotypes and its effects on day-to-day legal practice. The judges all expressed how Asians are frequently lumped together, being viewed as a monolithic group. Judge Serita pointed out that the term “Asian” itself perpetuates invisibility, as it smothers the diverse experiences that individuals of different Asian cultures experience. Judge Chen also mentioned how women of color tend to face more microaggressions than men of color.

Judge Wan then asked the panelists if they had experienced any incidents of anti-Asian assault during the COVID pandemic. Judge Serita shared that during the height of the pandemic, she would wear a hat and sunglasses on the subway in order to hide her Asian identity. She also mentioned how women make up 70% of bias incident victims due to being stereotyped as meek and docile. Judge Serita also emphasized the importance of continuing the conversations about Asians and race in light of the rise in anti-Asian incidents. Judge Chen also shared a story, where an Asian female jury member had to be excused from jury duty because she feared being assaulted on the subway commute to the courthouse.

Judge Wan then directed the conversation towards the role of diversity in the judiciary. All the judges emphasized the importance of having a judiciary that reflects the diversity of the people it serves. Judge Chen also cited Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in the Schuette v. Coalition case, pointing out how race does matter in the judiciary due to the long history of minorities being excluded in the United States.

Judge Wan then asked the panelists their thoughts on building a pipeline for Asians to enter the judiciary. All the judges expressed how important it was to reach out to the community to inspire young people to consider a public service career. Judge Chen identified a number of internships and programs for students aspiring to become judges while also noting how increasing Asian political representation in federal and state positions would afford aspiring AAPI lawyers the support needed to get through the confirmation process. Judge Chen also mentioned the role of bar associations like AABANY and the South Asian Bar Association of New York in sponsoring candidates for the bench. Judge Serita finished by encouraging young lawyers to be more proactive and to overcome Asian cultural humility.

Judge Wan moved to the topic of judicial screening panels, asking the judges their thoughts on the role of diversity on the panels. All the judges agreed on the vital role of diversity on screening panels. Judge Serita recounted one instance where an Asian woman being reviewed by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys was given a low qualification score, due, in part, to the fact that only one out of the 30 committee members was Asian.

To close the panel, Judge Wan asked the judges if they had any advice to give to young attorneys aspiring to the bench. Judge Chen and Judge Serita both encouraged the attendees to enjoy their work, be passionate about it, but also, to not plan their careers rigidly around becoming a judge. All the judges also expressed the importance of flexibility and of keeping options open.

At the end of the event, Judge Eng shared photographs and a newspaper clipping documenting his long and distinguished career in the judiciary. Judge Wan then thanked the panelists for their time and the attendees for coming to the event.

To watch the full event, click here.

AABANY AAVTF Hosts a Community Workshop on “Self-Defense and Defense of Others” on June 30th

On June 30th, the Asian American Bar Association of New York’s (AABANY) Anti-Asian Violence Task Force (AAVTF) hosted a community workshop on self-defense and defense of others. The speakers were Nassau County Assistant District Attorney and Prosecutors Committee Co-Chair Joseb Gim and St. John’s University Law School Professor and Academic Committee Co-Chair Elaine Chiu. The presentation was moderated by Eugene Love Kim, Legal Aid Society attorney and Vice-Chair of AABANY’s Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, and was translated into Cantonese and Mandarin by Kwok Ng, law clerk at the New York State Supreme Court and PBCS Committee Co-Chair, and Ye Qing, attorney at Morvillo Abramovitz, respectively. 

In light of the recent surge in anti-Asian violence and bias incidents, the presentation focused on the legal consequences that New York Penal Law has for self-defense. ADA Gim gave a summary of the laws and listed the various weapons that qualify as “deadly physical force” under New York Penal Law. These weapons include, but are not limited to, pepper spray, collapsible batons, and electric stun guns. ADA Gim also pointed out that, in exercising self-defense, unless a “reasonable person” would have made the same decision to defend themselves in your situation, using regular physical force or deadly physical force to defend yourself may lead to you being charged with  a criminal offense. Prof. Chiu briefly described the possibility of also being sued in a civil lawsuit but noted that using violence within the bounds of the New York Penal Law would prevent a judgment against you. 

At the end of the presentation, ADA Gim talked about more practical, immediate implications of the laws on self-defense and defense of others. He emphasized that, oftentimes, choosing to defend yourself will result in both you and the attacker being taken into police custody from the scene for further investigation and possible prosecution. He then discussed the importance of concrete evidence, 911 calls, recordings, and eyewitness testimony in corroborating your testimony. Both ADA Gim and Prof. Chiu also noted that individuals, before defending themselves, have a duty to flee dangerous situations unless they are attacked in their own homes. After the presentation, the discussion was opened to questions from the attendees.

AABANY thanks the members of the AAVTF for organizing the community workshop and for their service to the AAPI community of the greater New York metro area. To view the recording of the event, click here. To learn more about and to help fund the AAVTF’s initiatives, click here.

AABANY AAVTF Holds a Briefing on Anti-Asian Violence on May 25

On May 25, the Asian American Bar Association of New York’s Anti-Asian Violence Task Force (AAVTF) hosted an information briefing about the AAVTF’s activities and about the rise in anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The speakers for the event were AABANY President Terry Shen; Board Director, Issues Committee Co-Chair and Asia Practice Committee Co-Chair Chris Kwok; Board Director and past Pro Bono & Community Service (PBCS) Committee Co-Chair Karen Yau; PBCS Committee Co-Chair Karen King; Prosecutors’ Committee Co-Chair Joseb Gim; and Executive Director Yang Chen.

Chris and President Shen gave the opening remarks, introducing the event, and thanking all the attendees for coming.

After these remarks, Chris began the presentation, explaining how the publicity about anti-Asian violence generated in mainstream media has suddenly catapulted Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) into the public consciousness. Unlike before, Asians are now viewed as a group that experiences discrimination and violence, just like any other minority. Chris explained that these realizations politically empower AAPIs to make change in the political system as Asians become more aware about race and the ways in which it affects them. The AAPI identity has also been recreated through artwork, publications, and other initiatives. Asian non-profits have also begun receiving a large influx of donations that have great potential to aid the AAPI community. Chris also discussed the history of AABANY’s report and how Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about the virus incited a wave of anti-Asian hate and violence during early 2020. These events culminated in the report’s publication in February 2021. Karen then discussed the report’s publication process which involved the feedback and support of bar associations, law firms and other organizations. The subsequent publicity generated by the report was cemented by the anti-Asian shootings in Atlanta. Ever since, Karen explained, AABANY has frequently been requested to speak at numerous events and on many media outlets. Many initiatives proposed by the report have also since been implemented.

Yang then went on to discuss the genesis of the AAVTF, made up of members of the Academic Committee, Issues Committee, Legal Referral and Information Services (LRIS) Committee, PBCS Committee, Prosecutors Committee, and Student Outreach Committee as well as Immediate Past President Sapna Palla, President Shen, and President-Elect Will Ng. Yang also explained how the AAVTF was founded to realize the goals outlined in the report, focusing on three prongs of action: education/communication, research, and advocacy. Ever since, the AAVTF has pressed for hate crime prosecutions in DA Offices, published Know Your Rights Brochures for community members on what to do if they face an anti-Asian bias incident or hate crime, organized speaking engagements, begun data tracking for incidents, formed the Hate Eradication Active Response Team (HEART), and much more to raise awareness and combat anti-Asian violence.

Joe Gim, prosecutor and the Chief of the new Hate Crimes Bureau at the Nassau County DA Office next discussed the role of the Prosecutors’ Committee in the AAVTF, which was primarily to shed light on criminal statutes and on the gaps between law enforcement’s understanding and implementation of these statutes. This information, Joe explained, is used to strengthen AABANY’s initiatives and advocacy efforts.

Chris affirmed this statement, reiterating his thanks to the AAVTF and the indispensable support it provides in leading the conversation about anti-Asian violence. Chris also pointed out that any movements that fight back against hate, regardless of which group is targeted, are fighting against a common enemy of structural racism.

Yang and Karen Yau went on to promote the Turning the Tide (T3) Project, which is hosted at the Asian American Law Fund of New York (AALFNY) to raise money for the AAVTF’s initiatives, research, and advocacy combating anti-Asian hate and violence. Karen King also gave a special shoutout to the HEART initiative, encouraging the attendees to volunteer their time to help connect victims of anti-Asian violence with legal aid and other resources. She also encouraged attendees to involve their law firms as sponsors for projects and events.

Chris then closed the presentation by pointing out how the police’s lackluster response to hate crimes is in part due to the historical invisibility of the AAPI community. He also explained how this invisibility has its roots in the 1853 People v. Hall case where George Hall, a white man, was convicted but then released after murdering a Chinese miner. Chris explained how Hall appealed his release on the basis of a California statute which prevented people of color from testifying against whites. Chris also emphasized that supporting the Black Lives Matter movement does not detract from support for the AAPI cause. To illustrate the importance of building a multi-racial coalition, Chris recounted an interview he had with the celebrated documentary director Spike Lee for his film about New York City and race that will be released in September 2021. Lee explained that he had chosen to interview Chris because “people were asking where the Asians were. And I listened.”

After the presentations, the discussion was opened to the attendees for a question and answer session. 

Karen Lin, PBCS Committee Co-Chair asked whether or not AABANY would advocate for including AAPI history in the public school curriculum. Yang answered by reiterating AABANY’s support of any educational initiatives, pointing to AABANY’s trial reenactments project as an example. 

AABANY member Jennifer Luo then pointed the discussion towards the lack of successful hate crime prosecutions. Joe explained that law enforcement currently lacks sufficient resources and infrastructure to investigate hate crimes. As hate crimes are unique in that the prosecutor must prove that the perpetrator was motivated to commit the crime due to racial bias, this process requires more investigation and information which the police currently lacks. To address this issue, Joe also proposed creating a database of hate crimes and bias incidents that would allow law enforcement to easily access information and also to enable community members to report incidents more efficiently. He also mentioned the newly minted COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would allocate funding towards combating hate crimes. Chris also added that AABANY is planning a Candidates’ Forum that would give AABANY and its members an opportunity to ask about measures being considered to protect the AAPI community from violence. 

David Ahn then asked about AABANY’s plans to monitor hate crimes going forward. Chris answered by citing AABANY’s involvement in a case in Flushing, Queens where the perpetrator, despite revealing his racist sentiments in a text sent to the New York Times, was not charged with a hate crime. After AABANY’s advocacy in the DA’s Office, the perpetrator was charged with a hate crime. Chris also added that, though not every case would lead to a hate crime enhancement, AABANY is continuing to monitor the news and other outlets for advocacy opportunities. Yang also explained that the HEART initiative would help AABANY keep track of the incidents, connect with the community, and improve AABANY’s advocacy efforts. Karen Yau also pointed out that there are other alternatives to criminal prosecutions that victims would be able to pursue if they wished.

Chris then shared his own experiences with anti-Asian violence growing up, recounting a story where his friends were assaulted by a white supremacist gang while exiting a movie theater in Queens. He also described his efforts to reconnect with them hoping to preserve their stories and voices as a part of the history of anti-Asian violence.

AABANY Treasurer William Hao also discussed his own involvement in the aftermath of the Atlanta shootings while on a call with former U.S. Attorney Byung J. (“BJay”) Pak, the FBI, and local law enforcement. Will shared that even though the media had severely twisted the narrative by promoting the perpetrator’s claim that he had not been motivated by racism, the call served to give Asians a voice in revealing the truth of the events and reshaping the story. Will concluded by emphasizing the importance of AAPI representation in government and law enforcement.

Marilyn Go (USMJ EDNY, ret’d) then asked about AABANY’s ability to speak out during majority political forums. Chris answered by pointing out the difficulty of entering majority forums, but also noted that events recorded on Zoom would allow AABANY to hold candidates accountable for their words. Yang also referenced the City Council District One Candidates’ Forum which did take questions from AABANY regarding the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force. Jennifer then asked about the possibility of keeping a record of candidates’ responses regarding issues of anti-Asian violence. Chris responded that AABANY’s future plans to hold a Manhattan DA Candidates’ forum would allow AABANY to record responses from the candidates on that issue.

AABANY thanks all of the attendees for their time and their commitment to serving the AAPI community. To view the recording of the event, click here.

NAPABA Hosts Part 2 of its Summer Judicial Series, “APA Judges on the Federal Bench”

On May 7, AABANY co-sponsored a panel of Asian Pacific American judges as part two of NAPABA’s Summer Judicial Series. The event was hosted by the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association (GAPABA) and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). In addition to AABANY, the event was co-sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, D.C. Area (APABA-DC), the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Educational Fund (AEF), the National Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (NAPALSA), the South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA), and the South Asian Bar Association of Georgia (SABA-GA).

In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month as well as to encourage the growing number of young Asian American lawyers aspiring to the bench, GAPABA and NAPABA organized the panel to share the stories and careers of trailblazing APA judges. The panelists were AABANY member Hon. Denny Chin, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Hon. James C. Ho of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Hon. Sri Srinivasan, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit, Hon. Jennifer Choe-Groves of the U.S. Court of International Trade, Hon. Theodore D. Chuang, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, and Hon. Lucy H. Koh, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The panel was moderated by GAPABA Board Member Michael C. Wu and Byung Jin (BJay) Pak, Partner at Alston & Bird. GAPABA President and Of Counsel at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner Angela Hsu, GAPABA President-Elect and Associate General Counsel at Delta Air Lines Timothy Wang, and GAPABA Communications Co-Chair and Law Clerk for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Prathyusha Chenji were also in attendance.

Michael and BJay posed several questions to the panelists regarding their backgrounds and experience on the bench. All of the panelists expressed how their upbringing in the U.S. made them keenly aware of their “otherness” and in some cases, motivated them towards public service. Judge Chin (a former AABANY President, 1992-93) shared his background as an immigrant from Hong Kong and his experience growing up in New York City. Judge Chin also noted that, as one of the few Asians in his school and at his work, he was constantly under scrutiny and pressure to perform well. “I felt like Yao Ming,” he stated. Several panelists also reported that they still faced microaggressions in their professional lives, despite their position as judges.

When asked about their career paths and perspectives on diversity on the bench, all of the panelists described varied experiences in private practice, the legislative branch, and executive branch of the government before becoming a federal judge. Many of the panelists also expressed how diversity in the federal government could only lead to better and more informed decisions on behalf of the American people. Many of the panelists also shared their own stories about how they were inspired and encouraged by seeing diverse individuals serving in government and in public positions. All of the judges expressed how the justice system in America ought to be color blind and that all individuals should have the right to a fair trial regardless of their background. Judge Chin also discussed the importance of community and unity despite having diverse perspectives. When asked to respond to Supreme Court Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor’s discussion on the threat of disunity to national security, Judge Chin concurred, pointing out how even after President Biden’s election, Americans have yet to listen to each other without politicizing every single issue.

The moderators then closed the panel with several questions about advice any of the judges might have for young attorneys, law clerks, and others aspiring to become judges themselves. The panelists expressed how being a judge begins with being a good attorney. All of the judges emphasized the importance of relationships and teamwork, of maintaining a good reputation, and of being respectful and professional to all.

AABANY thanks NAPABA for hosting this series and also thanks the justices for their trailblazing example to the APA community. To watch a recording of the event, click here.

In the News: Executive Director Yang Chen and Board Director Chris Kwok Featured in The Spectator

AABANY Executive Director Yang Chen and Board Director Chris Kwok were recently mentioned in the April 28, 2021 edition of The Spectator, the Stuyvesant High School newspaper, in an article titled “Alumni Association Hosts Community Discussion on Anti-Asian Violence.” Both alumni of the school, Chris (’92) served as the moderator and Yang (’83) was one of the speakers in the April 15 community discussion. Other panelists included Joanne Kwong (’93), President of Pearl River Mart; Soo Kim (’93), President of the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association; U.S. Representative Grace Meng (’93); Seung Yu, Principal of Stuyvesant High School; and current Stuyvesant juniors Christopher Liu, Xiaoshen Ma, Laura Xia, and Alice Zhu. During the discussion, panelists shared with over 200 attendees their personal experiences with race and their opinions on the recent increase of hate crimes and racism against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Yang presented the findings and solutions outlined in AABANY’s report on anti-Asian violence and spoke about how AABANY is supporting the AAPI community. He stated: “One thing we’re pushing hard on is to make sure the NYPD Asian Hate Crimes task force is being fully funded. We’re very much supportive of any effort by law enforcement to bring attention to this issue and we’re trying to put as much word out as possible especially to the Mayor’s office. Mayor de Blasio denounced Asian-American violence a year ago but we’re still waiting for someone who is arrested for the crime to actually face criminal sanctions for it.”

To read the full coverage of the program on The Spectator, click here.

Board Officer Margaret Ling Speaks at New York Law School Community Day Symposium on April 20

On April 20th, 2021, AABANY Board Officer Margaret Ling was a speaker at the New York Law School Community Day Symposium entitled “The Pandemic and Structures of Inequality and Racism.” Margaret was invited by New York Law School faculty members, Professors Ann Thomas and Penelope Andrews. Margaret focused on Racism and the Law and specifically how Asian lawyers are stereotyped by the Model Minority Myth. She highlighted and discussed the recent findings and recommendations from the AABANY/Paul, Weiss report: A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence Against Asian Americans in New York During Covid-19. The discussion was engaging and informative for all of the New York Law School faculty and law students. Margaret is a New York Law School alumna (Class of 1983) and a Board Director of the New York Law School Alumni Association.

MNAPABA and NAPABA Statement on the Verdict in the Trial of Derek Chauvin

For Immediate Release: Date: April 20, 2021

Contact: Priya Purandare, Executive Director

Over the past year, in the wake of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, amongst others, MNAPABA and NAPABA expressed their support of and solidarity with the Black community in Minnesota and across the nation.  Today, a jury in Minneapolis has convicted Derek Chauvin on all counts charged in the killing of George Floyd. MNAPABA and NAPABA acknowledge the pain and anguish of the Floyd family and the Black community, and we recognize this is but one chapter in the ongoing endeavor to improve accountability, training, integrity, transparency, and improvement of this country’s criminal justice system as we have called for in NAPABA’s Resolution in Support of the Black Community.

At this critical inflection point in race relations in the United States, and as our own communities face a surge in reported hate crimes and bias-motivated incidents, MNAPABA and NAPABA reiterate their commitment to stand in solidarity with the Black community in Minnesota and across the nation in our shared goal of combating racism, discrimination, hate crimes, and other forms of bigotry. NAPABA recognizes the long history of systemic inequality faced by the Black community in this country and reaffirms its resolution calling for accountability and improving standards of professionalism and conduct in law enforcement. NAPABA has called for building trust between law enforcement and communities of color including by promoting diversity, inclusion, and better training for law enforcement. Community and government leaders must work together to create that trust and fairness in the legal system by combatting bias and safeguarding civil rights, civil liberties, and access to justice for all. While there remains much more work to be done, we hope this outcome helps the country heal and put greater faith in the rule of law.

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The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) represents the interests of approximately 50,000 legal professionals and nearly 90 national, state, and local Asian Pacific American bar associations. NAPABA is a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian Pacific American communities. Through its national network, NAPABA provides a strong voice for increased diversity of the federal and state judiciaries, advocates for equal opportunity in the workplace, works to eliminate hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment, and promotes the professional development of people of color in the legal profession.

Fall Conference 2020: Allyship and Black Lives Matter—Racism, Bias, and Xenophobia in Our Communities

On September 26, 2020, as part of AABANY’s 11th Annual Fall Conference, the AABANY Real Estate Committee and Issues Committee hosted a plenary session on the ongoing racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd and the rise in xenophobia against Asian Americans since the beginning of the pandemic. The panel included:  

  • Margaret T. Ling, Development Director and Real Estate Committee Co-Chair at AABANY and Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corp. (Moderator)
  • Letitia James, 67th Attorney General for the State of New York
  • Rahul Agarwal, Executive Assistant United States Attorney at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey
  • Paula T. Edgar, Attorney, CEO of PGE LLC, and Partner of Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC
  • Chris Kwok, Co-Chair of the Issues Committee and Asia Practice Committee at AABANY and a mediator and arbitrator with JAMS
  • Carmelyn P. Malalis, Chair and Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights

The esteemed panel discussed their experience addressing the issues of racism, bias, and xenophobia in their different capacities as government officials, bar association leaders, and diversity and inclusion specialists, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic. As the opening speaker, Paula Edgar provided an informative presentation on systemic racism, the varying responses of Corporate America, and the importance for companies and law firms to invest in resources for diversity training as part of an urgent call to incorporate actionable plans into their missions for equity and inclusion. More importantly, allyship transcends performative activism, or surface-level activism, on social media and demands a sustained and active approach to listen to the experiences of marginalized communities, educate oneself on race-related history and issues, and speak out against any injustice. 

In highlighting the importance of using our vote at this historical moment, New York State Attorney General Letitia James suggested that the participation of more people of color in law-enforcement can be one of the ways to sustain the BLM movement and push for substantive, lasting changes. Some of the projects at the Attorney General’s Office include a lawsuit against the US Postal Service for their attempt to delay the vote-by-mail ballots and an effort to advocate for immigrants to ensure that they are counted in the 2020 US Census. Attorney General James emphasized the need to stay hopeful and utilize our vote as citizens to protect our democracy. 

Rahul Agarwal focused on the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and stressed the importance of active reporting on the part of community members to help law enforcement personnel investigate these crimes and open cases. Rahul explained that the law enforcement community takes reports on hate crimes very seriously because the perpetrators’ hatred often affects many individuals, and since the targeted population can become fearful, it is crucial for law enforcement to act quickly. 

Noting from a survey the significant increase in people’s perception and experience with racial inequality since 2016, Carmelyn Malalis described the active outreach by the New York City Commission on Human Rights to marginalized communities and its employment of staffers who speak a total of over 30 different languages at the Commission to increase community engagement. Echoing Attorney General James’ comment on the value of allyship, Commissioner Malalis added that allyship also means recognizing that the constructed narratives about marginalized groups are often inconsistent with the lived experiences of people in those communities. She emphasized the need to actively work on dismantling one’s biased preconceptions. 

Referring to the Stop AAPI Hate’s recent record of about 2,600 hate crimes and incidents against Asian Americans in the past six months, Chris Kwok suggested that the actual number is most likely a lot higher since there has been insufficient attention directed towards AAPI hate crimes and a general lack of active reporting in the AAPI community. Chris highlighted the importance for Asian Americans to support the BLM movement since we are all fighting to challenge white supremacy and ensure justice in the United States. He concludes by emphasizing the need to say “BLM”— since black lives had been defined as property for decades, we, as allies in the BLM movement, should acknowledge the hashtag’s reflection of that history and recognition of the equal rights that every person deserves.

Thank you to Margaret, Attorney General James, Commissioner Malalis, Rahul, Paula, and Chris, for this insightful panel discussion. Thanks also to the AABANY Real Estate Committee and Issues Committee for organizing this event. To view a recording of the plenary session, click here or on the image above.