A new study by researchers at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) shows that Pacific Islanders in the U.S. are killed by the police at rates on par with Black Americans and Native Americans.
"Asian American and Pacific Islander activists have fought for more recognition and action against the uptick in racist violence we have experienced during the pandemic. But we need new accountability mechanisms when the police—the people who are theoretically supposed to protect you—are also killing AAPI people." - Co-author Jaquelyn Jahn, PhD, MPH
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are often lumped into a single racial group, making it difficult for researchers to examine differences between AAPIs from different backgrounds—between Chinese Americans and Vietnamese Americans, for example, groups with extremely different histories of immigration, refugee status, and income (related to immigrating at different times, for different reasons, under different immigration policies).
This new research shows that aggregating AAPI groups together obscures large differences between their risk of being killed by police.
The authors found East and South Asian Americans died from police violence less than a third as often as Southeast Asian Americans. Pacific Islanders suffered higher rates on par with Native and Black Americans. More granularly, Southeast Asian American groups displaced by U.S. war in Southeast Asia (such as Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, or Hmong people) suffered higher rates than others from the same region.
To conduct their research, epidemiologists Jaquelyn Jahn, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and The Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements, and Population Health Equity at DSPH, and Gabriel L. Schwartz, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF, started with a list of all AAPI people killed by the police during their study period. These were compiled by Fatal Encounters and Mapping Police Violence, citizen science initiatives that are rigorously fact-checked and are more accurate than official government statistics.
Next, they painstakingly read through thousands of news articles, obituaries, and public statements on the hundreds of AAPI people who died in police custody, searching for information about their national or ethnic background. They also applied validated algorithms that coded ethnic backgrounds using decedent surnames. In all, they were able to identify at least a regional ethnic background for more than 80 percent of the list. Because they were not able to identify everyone's background, they note that their paper underestimated fatal police violence risks since unidentified people were not able to be included in their calculations.
"Asian American and Pacific Islander activists have fought for more recognition and action against the uptick in racist violence we have experienced during the pandemic," Jahn said. "But we need new accountability mechanisms when the police—the people who are theoretically supposed to protect you—are also killing AAPI people."
“The lack of data on police violence against Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asians within ‘AAPI’ has meant their losses haven’t received much public attention,” Schwartz added. “When there’s no data–when AAPI people are treated like a monolith–it’s easier to pretend there isn’t a problem.”
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To learn more, please contact Dr. Jahn and Dr. Schwartz.