NO MORE MR NICE GUY
sian Americans have a longstanding reputation for being compliant almost to the point of servility. That image stems largely from media portrayals. Take an example we all know-- Hop Sing, the feisty, soft-hearted cook in the long-running TV Western series Bonanza. While the Cartwrights were galloping off to protect the Ponderosa's interests, Hop Sing was busy in the kitchen preparing dinner and worrying about Little Joe's flagging appetite. No wonder Asian Americans are casually assumed to be submissive and non-confrontational.
The most visible instance of Asian American willigness to assert their interests occurred in the days following the Rodney King assault trial in 1992. As the L.A. riots blossomed into runaway violence and destruction, thousands of shopkeepers in Koreatown and South Central Los Angeles were the targets of arson and looting. The LAPD picked that moment to lay down on the job. Rather than surrender themselves to the mass hysteria settling in, Corean American shopowners armed themselves and held off mobs with vigilante force. Images of these gun-toting Asian Americans are now indelibly linked to the L.A. Riots.
Not surprisingly, many Americans applauded the frontier-style action of the Corean business owners. Few would argue that they had much choice but to step in and defend their livelihoods.
Far removed from the riot-torn neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a lone Asian American man went a step further.
BUSTING CROOKED COPS
Late one January evening in 1992 John Pang [not his real name] received a phone call from his alarm company. He was told that his alarm was off, signifying that a burglary was likely in progress at his downtown shop. Quickly Pang called an employee who lived near the store and asked him to investigate while he and his brother made their way to the shop.
When they arrived, they saw that a brick had shattered the main display window. Two city policemen were on the scene. These big-city cops were both around 6-4, 200-pounders.
While Pang and his workers swept up the shattered glass, one cop went to the back of the store, ostensibly to see if a perpetrator was hiding there. The other cop stood out front, writing his report.
"No one's in there," said the cop, emerging from the store. The two prepared to leave, but one employee noticed that the cop who had been checking the back of the store was behaving suspiciously--like a shoplifter.
That's when Pang spotted a bulge in the cop's jacket. Despite the incongruity of the situation, he walked over to the cop and said, "I want to see inside your jacket. I think you got my merchandise."
"No, way," replied the cop. The two men argued and shoved each other, all in front of witnesses. Suddenly, the cop reached into his jacket, pulled out a $20 pair of shorts and threw it at Pang. "Take your fucking stuff," he yelled, and returned to the squad car, expecting to drive away.
Most shopkeepers would have settled for having the merchandise returned, especially with a burly policeman with a pistol at his side. But Pang put his 140-pound body inside the driver's side door and stood on the ledge so the door couldn't be closed. This Asian man, defying the stereotype of the meek Asian, grabbed the light bar atop the squad car as the cops drove off.
The car zigzagged all over the road in a frantic effort to throw off Pang who was desperately clinging to the light bar. The cop who was driving even elbowed Pang in the gut. But Pang held fast. His brother ran after the car screaming, "Stop!" Finally, a pedestrian jumped into the street and stopped the car. The cop sprang from the car and knocked down Pang, then his brother. The Pangs were scrambling to their feet to resume their assault when the cop's partner got out of the passenger side and pulled his pistol on them. That persuaded the Pangs to let the matter drop--for the time being. The cops took off and returned to the police station. Page 2