In the wake of the November 2021 attacks on eight Asian American youths by four Black youths on a SEPTA train, we, the undersigned, urge the Philadelphia community and our leaders to challenge the longstanding inadequacies of the traditional juvenile justice system and seize this opportunity to integrate transformative justice for a comprehensive resolution and healing for our communities.
We are long-time Asian American, immigrant, refugee and community leaders, parents, organizers, artists, healers, and activists in this city speaking together on this day, the 12-year anniversary of the events in December 2009 when more than 25 Asian students were assaulted at South Philadelphia High School.
As leaders who have been shaped by the violence of that time, our hearts go out to the Asian American youths who were harmed by racially motivated intimidation and violence on SEPTA. We recognize that they suffered real physical, mental, and emotional trauma, and that this harm is felt broadly across many in our communities, and is compounded by the escalation of recent anti-Asian attacks in our city and nationwide. Since March 2021, we have witnessed an average of one beating, murder, or death threat per month targeting our Philadelphia Asian communities. Too often, when Asian Americans in Philadelphia face racial intimidation, violence, and harassment, we are not heard or taken seriously – until something terrible happens.
The historical invisibilization and misunderstanding of our community’s pain had led some to urgently call for “swift justice.” But we are concerned that urgency has meant calling for punishment and increased policing, which puts more people of color, especially Black communities, in harm’s way. We are concerned that overt media hype and reactionary rhetoric and mobilization leave little room to actually center our young people and ask: What does justice look like for them?
While much attention has been put on the interpersonal nature of this latest incident, it’s important to shine a light on the systemic roots of this harm. This is the direct result of decades of divestment from our city’s public schools, leading to conditions where our youths are pitted against one another and school administrations are unequipped to support them. This leads to the normalization of violence between students of color and the failure of our city’s institutions to center transformative justice and healing the aftermath, perpetuating the cycle of violence. Our SEPTA drivers are frontline workers transporting us during the continuing pandemic and also must not be targeted for these broader systemic failures.
After the collective decades of work in our communities, we continue to ask: What does repair look like in this instance of harm that doesn’t create further violence? What does healing look like for the victims? What should accountability look like for the youths who caused the harm? What are the larger systems and leaders who are failing our communities who must also be held accountable? If systemic failures have led to this incident, what does collective responsibility for collective transformation look like? How do we simultaneously break this cycle of violence, heal harm, and address the structural issues that lead to anti-Asian hate? Today, we together declare that first, we listen to our young people. At this time, we call for:
1) Centering the healing of the harmed youths and accountability for responsible youths that is healing and transformative, NOT punitive, retributive, or involving the traditional juvenile justice system;
2) Centering the voices and demands of our young people. Too often we have moved at a reactionary pace, disregarding what our impacted youth have said what safety, healing, and justice truly means for them. We must listen to the demands that our youth leaders have made for years, and we must listen to what demands they will make from here on.
Our organizations together commit to:
- Centering and supporting the voices of our youth;
- Growing our understanding of processes for restorative justice and organizing for our City and School District to implement restorative practices in the event of all instances of harm to youth caused by other youth;
- Working towards growing our diverse Asian American communities; knowledge and desire for transformative justice and organizing hand-in-hand with other communities of color and other marginalized communities in Philadelphia to win structural changes that reimagine community safety in our neighborhoods and city’s institutions;
- Joining with aligned Black organizations and communities to resist the harmful, reductive narrative of inherent conflict between Black and Asian American communities and to put forward an alternative story and vision of shared history, values, and solidarity.
Twelve (12) years later and after many hard-won lessons, we know that increased policing and punitive measures will not break this cycle of violence and is not part of the vision for true safety that our communities continuously seek. True safety will happen when our schools and communities have the resources, restorative practices, healing, and hope needed to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place.
- Asian Americans United
- Asian Arts Initiative
- Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance
- Cambodian American Girls Empowering
- Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia
- Gapura Philly
- hotpot! Philly
- Modero & Company (Indonesian community)
- Philadelphia Cambodian American Business Community
- Philly Solidarity
- Woori Center