Dear Law School Community,
On Tuesday, eight people were tragically killed in and around Atlanta, six of them Asian women. Those victims who have been identified include Dayou Feng, Hyeon Jeong Park, Julie Park, Xiaojie Tan, Paul Andre Michels, and Delaina Ashley Yaun. Xiaojie Tan was about to celebrate her 50th birthday. Daoyou Feng had only recently begun working at the spa where she was killed.
These murders are the most recent manifestation of an increasing and horrific wave of bias, discrimination, and violence directed toward Asians during this pandemic. Other UC leaders – including our Chancellor, our President, and the Asian American Studies Department, the Asian American Studies Center, and the Center for Study of Women – have tweeted or written forcefully about these senseless acts, and have also recognized the broader rise of racism directed against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. I write to add my voice to theirs, to condemn this terrible rise in anti-Asian sentiment and violence, and to stand in support of our AAPI students and colleagues. I also want to acknowledge the pain, fear, and anger that Asians, including many members of our UCLA Law community, have been experiencing as these hate crimes have increased in frequency, occurring disproportionately against women.
UCLA Law’s commitment to equity and inclusion – fostering increased access to legal education for students from all backgrounds, serving as the home of the nation’s first and only law-school based Critical Race Studies program, and embracing our diversity as a key component of the training and experience we offer – is deeply held and long-standing. This ethos has lived as much in the work that we do as lawyers and lawyers-to-be as in the ways we aim to support so many of our own.
These values were on display this morning, when our own Professor Hiroshi Motomura, whose family came from Japan decades ago, during another period of hostility against Asians, testified before the House Judiciary Committee in the first congressional hearing on anti-Asian discrimination in several decades. Professor Motomura, who co-directs our Center for Immigration Law and Policy, put these recent horrible acts in the context of an immigration system that has itself, in his words, “laid the foundation for hate crimes” by often discriminating and excluding on the basis of race, nationality, religion, and ethnicity.
“To see hate crimes as isolated is to close our eyes to the role of law in shaping attitudes, especially about who is worthy of respect, and who is not,” he said. “Immigration laws tell some U.S. citizens that they are still foreigners – that they cannot fully partake of American life. If they trace their family origins to disfavored parts of the world, or if they follow a disfavored faith, then the message is that their citizenship isn’t as worthy of respect as the citizenship of other Americans. Their citizenship is devalued.”
Professor Motomura’s testimony lays bare how both individual laws and our legal system can operate in the service of discrimination rather than in preventing it. (If you wish to see the full video or transcript of his presentation, they are available here.) Laws and our legal system not only define what is permitted but also work to shape our collective attitudes and beliefs. Our legal categories and distinctions can therefore operate in ways that promote justice, but can all too often undermine it too.
The rise of anti-Asian bias incidents, hate crimes, and violence during this pandemic is both heartbreaking and wrong. I recognize and am so sorry that some of you have experienced such harms directly. To everyone in our community: I encourage you to see this moment as an opportunity to offer your support to your Asian and Asian American friends, colleagues, neighbors, and others who are suffering. Remind them that they are valued and seen, and that their grief and anger are worthy of respect. And as lawyers and lawyers-to-be, let us work together to create a legal system – and a society – in which racism, xenophobia, and discrimination are finally extinguished, and where equal justice is more than a hope for the future.
In addition, if you experience or see a hate crime or an example of discrimination, please report it. Here at UCLA, incidents can be reported here. Beyond our community, some valuable resources for reporting hate crimes can be found here, courtesy of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, and in this Community Action Guide from OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. If you or anyone you know has experienced such hostility or needs counseling or other assistance, please visit UCLA’s Resources on Anti-Asian Discrimination website or CAPS. We don’t want these instances to go unreported, and we stand in full support of all members of our community. Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other.
Jennifer L. Mnookin
Dean and Ralph and Shirley Shapiro Professor of Law
Co-Director, PULSE@UCLA Law