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Churches can no longer stay silent about racism, said Pastor Han Byung-chul from the Korean Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, who recently formed an anti-AAPI hate group in the city with 11 other religious leaders.

“It should be a time that Asian Americans reflect on their indifference and irresponsibility,” Han said in an interview, using language striking for its rebuke of his fellow Asians. “This is an awakening moment for Asian Americans.”

Pastors are reluctant to align themselves with a party. And right now, their efforts are in the very early planning stages. But they’re making it clear they intend to be a force strong enough to pressure lawmakers and political parties into addressing the needs of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

“It’s not about specific politicians or political parties. We want an overarching understanding that we need to create a society where immigrants and Asians aren’t discriminated [against],” said Pastor Lee Jun-hyup from Immanuel Korean United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga. “Korean churches and Asian American groups will likely put more pressure on lawmakers to implement systematic changes to address these issues.”

A similar political awakening is gaining momentum across the United States. Last week, Pastor Choi Byung-ho, president of the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches, sent out instructions encouraging pastors around the country to incorporate anti-racism messages in their sermons.

Lew Jae-duk, the president of the Korean United Methodist churches, put out a statement that both condemns hate crimes and criticizes xenophobic lawmakers: “I think politicians who have used Asians as a scapegoat are partially to blame,” he said. “Because the country is struggling, they’re fueling hate against immigrants, minorities and other countries to court the support of the far-right.”

Ultimately these pastors say they want to work with lawmakers to enact policy change protecting Asian Americans from further violence, said Pastor Michael Lee of All Nations Community Church in Bellevue, Wash. Law enforcement must improve both the way it tracks hate crimes and the way those crimes are prosecuted, Lee said. But that can only happen by ensuring all police departments carry a hate crime unit, which can help expedite the investigation of these incidents. He also emphasized the need for oversight committees to monitor law enforcement’s handling of hate crimes.

“All this hype without policy change is just hype. It’s just emotions,” Lee said. “And so I think the only way to make lasting changes is through policy changes. Having a seat at the table with lawmakers, with elected officials locally, statewide, nationally … that’s absolutely essential.”

Like other ethnic groups, Korean Americans often split along generational lines. First-generation immigrants tend to align with conservatives on matters like abortion and the economy; many Korean Americans, for instance, are small business owners who despise taxes and red tape. But younger generations are more likely to tell pollsters that the Republican Party, dominated increasingly by white identity politics, doesn’t represent them.

An invigorated Korean community, pushed to action by Korean churches, could be good news for Democrats, who have been losing ground with the Korean community in recent years, according to early poll data. Although nationally, 57 percent of Korean Americans said they would vote for Biden pre-election, an exit poll conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that only 39 percent voted for the current president. While the numbers are still incomplete, it shows that Democrats need better outreach to the community to secure their vote in future elections.

It’s why the current galvanizing around racism works in the Democrats’ favor because Korean Americans approve their handling of the issue: In a September survey by AAPI Data, a demographic data and policy research organization, 63 percent of Korean Americans said they thought Democrats did a better job at addressing racism than Republicans — the highest rate out of all ethnicities polled and 14 percent above the overall Asian American average.

What’s more, this spark in activism among pastors is bridging the generational gap in civic participation for the community. Young second- and third-generation Korean Americans are mingling with older first-generation immigrants at protests against racial discrimination. Korean culture is very family focused, so this multigenerational approach will likely inspire older, first-generation immigrants to stay engaged, activists say. And that, in turn, will likely translate to then having a united voice on issues, fostering higher voter turnout.

“That’s what it feels like for the Asian community: That finally, after all these years of being silenced and minimized and demonized, we have this window,” said Hyepin Im, president and founder of Faith and Community Empowerment. “It feels like we’re finally given this platform for us to speak.”

Until now, these populations have shied away from speaking out about racial issues or even being a part of political movements. Part of that is due to cultural and language barriers, as well as a deeply ingrained belief that religion should not be a part of secular activities, such as politics or protests.

But churches have long held a prominent role in fighting against racial injustice, especially within the Black community. Black churches were the epicenter of the 60s civil rights movement — led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and his network of fellow preachers across the South

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— as they hosted community meetings, organized mass marches and provided spiritual support.

Korean churches today are following in that tradition, said Omar Wasow, a politics professor at Princeton who tracks political movements. And he sees many of the same patterns playing out in the Korean community today.

“Young people were perceived as too militant and older generations were like, ‘We need to keep our heads down in the context of civil rights activism,’” he said. “Some of what brought an older generation along was the Black church and leaders there who could kind of bridge these more traditional institutions and a more activist kind of wing in the community.”

These churches will likely act as a safe space for first-generation immigrants who have historically felt they’ve never had a platform to voice the discrimination they feel, Im said. It’s the best way to keep this population — which has long been coveted as a “silent giant” among local organizers who see the group’s potential — engaged despite their long-held wariness of civic participation due to cultural and language barriers, she added. Organizers had already been targeting this group because of its sheer size: 70 percent of Asian Americans in Georgia are foreign-born.

As the number of politically engaged Korean Americans grows, with church pastors at the forefront, the group will likely have “to actually search what they want to fight for” beyond fighting racial injustice, Wasow said. Surveys already show that Korean Americans are heavily invested in the economy, environment, education and national security, and the current burgeoning political movement will likely encourage members to speak out more publicly on these issues than ever before.

But even the starting fight against racism won’t be an easy process for Korean churches, warns Peter Chin, a Korean pastor at the Rainier Avenue Church in Seattle, Wash., who has ministered churches with a majority Black congregation. That’s particularly true for the many first-generation pastors who may feel “standing up for racial justice is very foreign,” Chin said.

“Black churches had to actively live against white supremacy from the time of slavery, and Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. So their voice on these matters has really been life or death for almost 300 years,” he said.

“Whereas for Asian churches, it’s so new that that kind of foundational language and the common denominators and experiences and numerous experiences that would kind of frame that aren’t there yet. That breadth of experience hasn’t really taken place.”

One of the many cultural factors that has kept Korean Americans out of the political arena is the idea, held by many first-generation immigrants, that they ought to work hard, keep their heads down and not complain. Political scientists have called this phenomenon “the model minority myth” — and younger generations of Korean Americans are increasingly chafing against this narrow conception of their identity.

Now first-generation religious leaders like Han from the Korean Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta are joining the criticism against the stereotype, which he regrets churches have helped perpetuate.

“Us priests are likely one of the people who have spread the model minority myth to our congregation. We told Christians to follow those stereotypes by putting successful people on a pedestal, yet failed to teach them about their role as a responsible citizen and the importance of solidarity,” Han said.

On a recent Sunday, Han and a group of 11 other local religious leaders held a prayer vigil outside of Gold Spa, one of the shooting sites where three Korean women were killed. The parking lot was packed with people wearing masks. Some held white chrysanthemums, the mourning flowers of Korea that are rarely seen in the U.S., in one hand — and signs condemning racism in the other. Attendees sang “Come Now, O Prince of Peace,” which echoed throughout the area, as cars honked along in the background.

During the event, which was conducted entirely in Korean, Han addressed the crowd, gently chastising those who cling to the model minority myth. It wasn’t exactly the booming oration of a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Ralph Abernathy, but his words felt like a major leap for a community more accustomed to staying silent — the quiet eloquence of newfound determination, of previously untapped resolve.

“We’ve lived with the idea that simply working hard and caring for our family is enough,” Han told the congregation. “Yet look at what that’s made us: We failed to become responsible citizens of the U.S.

“Real, responsible citizens don’t just seek their own survival,” he went on. “They envision and work toward a world where everyone can live together in prosperity.”


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Black Lives Matter thought they had Washington’s ear. Now they feel shut out.

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Now, leading Black activists say those issues aren’t getting the hearing they deserve.

“It was grassroots and base building organizations that put our issues at the forefront. That’s who delivered this win to the administration,” said Amara Enyia, policy director for the Movement for Black Lives. “At minimum, those folks should be given an audience.”

Part of the disconnect may be the cultural gap between activists — for whom justice is an absolute, but attainable ideal — and politicians, who deal with the messy realities of governing, forging compromise, and accepting incremental wins. Many BLM leaders, for instance, pushed to “defund” city police departments, only to find little appetite among lawmakers for what was widely seen as a politically suicidal position.

On Sunday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) signaled that he was willing to water down qualified immunity, which currently shields officers from civil liability for misdeeds, in order to pass some sort of policing reform legislation.

“Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn told CNN. “I just won’t do that. … Sometimes you have to compromise.”

So while, at the outset of the new Congress, movement leaders stressed they wanted to play a role in enacting policy change, and insisted they weren’t interested in empty rhetoric or piecemeal reforms, they’re now reassessing that approach as frustration sets in.

Now, where there was once more momentum behind the push for sweeping systemic change, bureaucratic policy hurdles and political calculations have pushed activists with the Movement for Black Lives back to the sidelines.

While this has forced activists to refocus their efforts, they maintain that their organizing is multi-dimensional. And they’ve amassed a sizable war chest. The Black Lives Matter Global Network, armed with more than $90 million in fundraising following last summer’s protests, has channeled those funds into initiatives and campaigns. One, launched in February, targets police unions and police budgets–efforts that have the most heft at state and local levels.

They’ve also used that funding to publicize their assessment of Joe Biden’s performance as he passed the 100-day mark. A recent advertisement paid for by the Black Lives Matter Global Network, criticized the administration’s handling of police reform. The ad, which aired in Washington, D.C., for a limited time, specifically condemns what they see as Biden’s lack of action on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement.

“We are the people who elected Biden,” the ad says. “It’s time he started acting like it.”

When asked for comment, a White House official did not specify where talks with movement leaders stand. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly explain the administration’s stance, said there is an “open and ongoing dialogue” between senior White House officials and leaders of the movement as well as with legacy civil rights organizations.

Movement leaders also met with members of Congress early in the planning stages for the Justice in Policing Act last summer and asked for a platform to outline the BREATHE Act, several activists said. However, even those they view as allies on the Hill — including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is spearheading police reform discussions — were unwilling to diverge from the bill’s core tenets.

As members of Congress continue to hash out a bill to pass with enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, activists say they have not been included in any of those discussions.

Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and one of the movement’s first lead organizers, said movement leaders have not abandoned their national advocacy work.

She pointed to a number of allies in Congress like Bass with whom she and other leaders have had “critical conversations” in the past about the movement’s role in policymaking.

“One of the things we’re looking at moving forward is having a better relationship [with lawmakers],” Abdullah said. “So rather than lawmakers making laws without the input of a movement that gives traction to them, we want to do a better job of coordinating on the front end.”

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But complicating things is the fact that movement leaders stand vehemently against the Justice in Policing Act, which Congress drafted as a response to their protests. They argue that instead of holding officers accountable, the bill — which passed the House in March — actually gives more funds to law enforcement. Moreover, activists say, police de-escalation training, universal body cameras and data to track use of force, all provisions of the Justice in Policing Act, don’t go far enough.

The bill “requires that police be the fixers of their own problems,” said Karissa Lewis, national field director for the Movement for Black Lives. “And we know that that just has not been a successful strategy.”

Still, the Movement for Black Lives has come out in favor of some national policies that have implications for the work they do on the state level. Activists point to both the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to their work. If passed, the bills would curb a number of the provisions in state laws that limit access to the ballot.

Organizers said they were happy to hear Senate Majority Leader ´ say that he would like to pass a major voting rights bill by August, though it’s not clear how he would do so without reforming Senate rules.

And there are activists who are continuing their work locally. A national platform, they say, was never one of their chief goals. Following an unsuccessful effort to reallocate police funds in Minneapolis last summer, activists there say they’re doubling down on their push for more comprehensive public safety plans that give community members more power.

“We know the history of the failure, where we’re expecting [police] to reform themselves,” said D.A. Bullock, a lead organizer with the Minneapolis-based group Reclaim the Block. “We know that’s not possible. We’re looking to a more fundamental change in the way we do public safety.”

Nor do they see Derek Chauvin’s conviction as the final chapter following last year’s organizing against police violence and systemic racism under the umbrella of a “racial reckoning.”

“People are still asking this question of, ‘is anything coming?’ Yes, it’s coming. It’s happening on the local and state level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and lead organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.

Still, Mitchell added that he and other lead organizers feel they are “duty bound to ensure that [police reform] happens on the federal level.”

Mitchell called for Biden to issue more executive orders and make full use of the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act quickly on criminal justice reform as discussions around the Justice in Policing Act seem unlikely to conclude in time for Biden’s May 25 consensus deadline.

Federal legislation, activists argue, should address the root causes of the issue: A system of law enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color. And that means they’ll continue to push for a public safety overhaul — and lobby those members of Congress willing to hear them out.

“We’re not interested in easy solutions, and we’re not interested in nibbling around the edges,” Mitchell said. “This is an urgent and real crisis for us.”


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Palestinians, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes

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In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers.

Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.

By Tuesday morning, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired more than 200 rockets. That included a barrage of six rockets that targeted Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. It set off air raid sirens throughout Jerusalem, and explosions could be heard in what was believed to be the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war.

There appeared to be some first signs of de-escalation in Jerusalem early Tuesday. Palestinian worshippers performed the dawn prayer at the mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound. Amateur videos showed dozens of faithful marching to the mosque and chanting “we sacrifice our blood, soul for Al-Aqsa.”

In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed a man in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis early Tuesday, according to local media reports. In another strike, a woman and two men were killed when a missile struck the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, according to Gaza Health Ministry and rescue services.

Hamas’ armed wing said it intensified the rocket barrages following the airstrike on the house.

The Israeli military said it had carried out dozens of airstrikes across Gaza overnight, targeting what it said were Hamas military installations and operatives. It said a Hamas tunnel, rocket launchers and at least eight militants had been hit.

Dozens of rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But one landed near a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing light damage to the structure and sparking a brush fire nearby. In southern Israel, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a missile struck a vehicle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

He said fighting could continue for some time and that “”whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time.”

Gaza health officials gave no further breakdowns on the casualties. At least 15 of the 22 deaths in Gaza were attributed to the airstrikes. Seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in a mysterious explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket. More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.

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In a statement issued early Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

In Monday’s unrest, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

Over 600 Palestinians were hurt in Jerusalem alone, including more than 400 who required care at hospitals and clinics, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Palestinians and police reported renewed clashes late Monday. Israeli police also reported unrest in northern Israel, where Arab protesters burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at security forces. Police said 46 people were arrested.

Monday’s confrontations came after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.

“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the U.S. would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by thousands of flag-waving nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day.

The annual festival is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. But it is widely seen as a provocation because the route goes through the heart of Palestinian areas.


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Vatican warns U.S. bishops about rebuking Biden, other Catholic pols

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Ladaria, in his letter, said any new policy “requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Even then, Ladaria advised, the bishops should seek unanimous support within their ranks for any national policy, lest it become “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

Ladaria made several other points that could complicate the plans of bishops pressing for tough action:

— He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.

— He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”

— He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

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— He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

Among the leaders of the campaign to rebuke Biden is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who recently issued a pastoral letter arguing that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Communion. A few days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego published an essay saying such an initiative “will bring tremendously destructive consequences.”

Ladaria’s letter was dated May 7. It was first reported Monday by Catholic News Service and the Jesuit magazine America.


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