Korematsu, Kim, Dorner and the Asian American Burden

There’s a lesson or two buried in the news stories about the rampaging black cop Christopher Dorner, elderly Korean American shooter Chung Kim, and recognition by Michigan of a day honoring Japanese American internment resister Fred Korematsu.

These disparate stories speak in part to the question of how assertive we Asian Americans should be. Are we too averse to conflict as Dorner suggested in his rambling manifesto? Would Monica Quan and her fiance still be alive if her father Randal — who had represented Dorner in the Board of Rights appeal of his termination from the LAPD — had been white?

Here’s the single paragraph Dorner devoted to his assessment of Asian American officers in the long manifesto he mailed to the media after killing Monica, her black fiance and another police officer:

Those Asian officers who stand by and observe everything I previously mentioned other officers participate in on a daily basis but you say nothing, stand for nothing and protect nothing. Why? Because of your usual saying, “I—don’t like conflict.” You are a high value target as well.

No one knows the feverish turning of gears in Dorner’s head when he chose to murder Monica and her fiance. All we know is that he chose them as the first assassination targets of his revenge rampage simply for being related to the attorney who represented him in his failed bid to win back the job from which he was terminated. The termination was for allegedly fabricating the allegation that he had seen his female superior kick a mentally ill detainee several times, including once on the face.

Dorner’s choice of his first victims was full of irony.

As the first Chinese American to attain the rank of captain in the LAPD, Monica’s father Randal Quan probably suffered at least as much racial prejudice during his quarter century on the force as Dorner claims to have suffered during his four years. As Dorner’s attorney, Quan was probably the single person most invested in Dorner’s fight to win back his job. Quan exhibited none of the anti-black prejudice Dorner complains of in his manifesto. Not only was he representing a black former officer who was apparently very unpopular in the LAPD, Quan’s daughter was engaged to Keith Lawrence who happens to be black.

Yet Dorner chose to punish Quan by killing his daughter and Lawrence — neither of whom had any apparent connection with him — to kick off his campaign to seek revenge on those who had wronged him. The only explanation apparent in his manifesto is his reference to his characterization of Asians as being averse to conflict.

Dorner’s murder of Monica and her fiance tends to invalidate his assessment of Asian Americans. On another level, we already know that he is merely echoing the characterization others have applied to Asian Americans, including some Asian Americans themselves.

As it happens ample rebuttals to that accusation were supplied by other news stories running simultaneously with those about Dorner’s endgame.

One was Michigan’s recent decision to join California in observing January 30 as Fred Korematsu Day in honor of the Japanese American who chose to defy the federal government rather than submit to Executive Order 9066 sending Japanese Americans to internment camps. With the help of Ernest Besig, the determined ACLU director of northern California, Korematsu took his fight to the Supreme Court three times. Only on his third attempt was he successful in getting the high court to acknowledge, on November 10, 1983, that the internment order had been unconstitutional at the time it was issued in January 1942.

On September 23, 2010 California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill designating January 30 as the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. It was observed for the first time in 2011. Other memorials have been erected to honor Korematsu.

Of course most of the wrongs we Asian Americans fight don’t touch on issues of constitutional significance or ones in which we are representing an entire segment of the American population. Usually they involve dealing with people who disrespect us, often because of our race, facing us with the stark choice of quietly submitting to some indignity or turning it into an open, sometimes physical, conflict in which there is rarely a winner.

That was the kind of situation faced by Chung Kim, a 75-year-old Korean American man living alone in Dallas. The upstairs neighbors — a black couple in their early 30s with 5 small children — had the habit of letting their small dog use their balcony as its toilet. The pee and poop dropped onto Kim’s patio and in front of his door. For nearly a year Kim tried to get the neighbors to end the practice and the condo association to take action. He failed.

When it happened again last week Kim is accused of taking action. The police say he shot and killed both adults. Kim says the male neighbor put a gun to his head and he merely reacted in self-defense. The gun has been sent out for analysis. Meanwhile Kim is in jail facing murder charges and the five orphaned children have been sent to live with relatives.

Kim’s plight illustrates, perhaps, that an elderly Asian who speaks halting English sometimes has trouble commanding respect in American society. It’s hard to imagine the same kind of thing happening to an elderly white person. This tragedy — as well as other unfortunate situations involving younger, more articulate Asian Americans —show that we share a burden imposed by others’ perceptions about our race, no matter how inaccurate.

Monica Quan appears to have been a victim of Dorner’s perception that her father Randal was somehow complicit in his plight because Asians don’t like conflict. Fred Korematsu and over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans spent two years in internment camps due perhaps to the assumption that they were unlikely to speak out even against such a gross violation of their rights.

Such misperceptions continue to breed confrontations, some of which end tragically. Each such confrontation helps dispel the false perception that confuses Asian forbearance and respect for order with an inability to engage in open conflict. Ironically, Dorner’s manifesto points out the folly that some people — especially racists — have of confusing kindness and manners with weakness. If nothing else, Dorner has joined countless Asians in helping illustrate the dangers of making that mistake.



Cleo · Feb 14, 02:10 PM · #

“ we share a burden imposed by others’ perceptions about our race”

I’m not sharing jackshit with murderers. I want them dealt with and I don’t care if they are fellow Chinese.

individually – some of us are evil and some of us are innocent and the evil ones must never be defended by pulling the race card – don’t stand up for them or qualify their actions in anyway ever otherwise nonAsians will really appropriately despise you for being unfair and unjust

frankly, Asia and Europe aren’t that great in terms of moral and emotional health – I don’t care how Confucian the Koreans think SK is – that place sucks too. All of those countries SUCK because there is a cowardice to the immorality and it does seep into American culture but not as much – here we do have a genuine bedrock of fair play and justice – BUT it chips away really quick for Asians when we act sleazy – then we lose the mandate because we are no longer model minority in our behavior. It’s just human nature – why do they have to fight our battles for us?

Americans are really really unhappy right now – I can tell just from watching how most people I see in New York don’t have it as easy and pleasant as is shown on tv and that means NO Patience, no tolerance for any kind of whinging by people who did not get whipped to death after being kidnapped from Africa. I don’t care how we were indentured and fooled onto pineapple plantations. It’s not the same and you don’t see them shooting up schools.

I don’t even believe this LLCoolJ lookalike did what they say he did on the same day as POTUS’ State of the Union. I think this is just making sure that no one group or subgroup gets to be a sacred cow in this country especially Heidi Klum’s brood. Just watch, India is going to get it too – oh, wait, of course, the New Delhi Rapes.

So is there ANY Group that hasn’t undeservedly been kicked into NEARLY the same league as the lovely assholes from Germany and Japan? Who’s left? Native Americans? Eskimos? There has to be someone who hasn’t done a rampage yet. Norway had that World of Warcraft fan. Aborigines, maybe?

PNG just killed a woman for performing sorcery so that might just cover it.

Maybe we can get some peace and quiet while we all stretch our necks looking for that promised tsunami to hit Japan.

Intrepid · Feb 15, 03:47 PM · #

People are taking that “manifesto” way too seriously. It doesn’t support or validate anything, especially given that Dorner’s own thinking and words aren’t even that consistent with his actions.

CV · Feb 16, 01:04 AM · #

Well here goes nothing, since my comments don’t usually make it onto the page. Maybe it’s because the fine folks who run Goldsea don’t like what I usually have to say. Any who…

I think the first step in realizing that there is a problem is looking at yourself or in this case your culture(s) in the mirror. No Dorner was not right to murder the people he did, but you can’t assume that Randall Quan did all he could to help Christopher Dorner. Especially when the woman who Dorner spoke out against later confessed to actually committing the act she was accused of, and to add to that it seems that Randall Quan knew of this confession and chose to ignore it: Thus leaving Christopher Dorner to lose his case and his job.

He didn’t have to look at representing C. Dorner as a minority helping a minority: He simply had to do his job and in that HE FAILED.

Also you can’t assume that R. Quan was Black friendly because his daughter was engaged to a Black man. Let’s be honest here: Most Asian parents do not want their children marrying someone who is not Asian, and if they must I’m sure they pray that the person isn’t Black.

When someone says something that is uncomfortable to hear the way to grow is that ask yourself “Is there a grain of truth in the action or the statement?” Not to have a knee jerk reaction and condemn it.

Then to put up “facts” to prove it isn’t true by posting another Asian man killing a Black couple… that is idiotic at best. I’m sure as the case progresses we will find that it wasn’t quite in “self defense” because maybe he “had” to shoot the man but to shoot the woman as well…over dog poop…when you really stop to look at it, killing someone over dog poop does point to a devaluation of their life. Would the couple have been murdered over dog poop if they were White? I doubt it. So one of your examples really does stink of racism doesn’t it? To murder someone over dog shit really does seems cowardly and to write up something up to defend it is ridiculous and proves that Asians in America really do need to wake up.

power7 · Feb 16, 06:57 PM · #

Dorner’s sums up his views on all races towards the end of his suicide letter. He didn’t like Asian, Latino, or White cops who he felt ruined him. I think the LAPD didn’t pick up on the Dorner going after his own lawyer’s family.

Kim’s situation I believe is a little different in that his neighbors were just plain disrespectful.

I don’t really think the stereotype of Asians being timid led to these outcomes.

SURE ENOUGH · Feb 20, 12:20 PM · #

When it comes to courtroom strategy the most effective lawyers seem to be Jewish. They have a reputation of not shying away from confrontation, exactly the opposite of Asian lawyers’ reputation.

flybynite · Feb 20, 04:15 PM · #

Lots of great Jewish lawyers but they haven’t cornered the market on trial lawyering.

Some of the country’s top trial lawyers are Asian Americans. The top patent trial lawyer, for example, include Morgan Chu of Irell and Manella and William Lee of WilmerHale who had a nice result for Apple in the lawsuit against Samsung.

Also some top flight criminal and appellate lawyers who are Asian, including the US attorney for Manhattan as well as the former US Attorneys for Los Angeles and San Diego.

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