How not to get shot
In 1992, the same year that I saw videos of an African American man bludgeoned by multiple police officers and the ensuing riot in Los Angeles, a Japanese high school student was shot to death in the state of Louisiana. It occurred on Halloween night when he put on a costume and went out with his friends. They were heading to a house party, but they arrived at the wrong house. The owner of the house took out a gun to hold them up. According to the report, he shouted at them, “freeze.” The Japanese boy supposedly didn’t hear or understand him and kept moving toward the man, and then the man fired at him. The boy died of the gunshot wound on the way to a hospital. The man was acquitted firstly because, in the U.S., people had the right to defend themselves with firearms. Secondly, the Japanese boy moved when told to freeze.
When the media reported the incident in Japan, they narrated it as a tragic story of a young boy who got himself shot due to the lack of language skills. If only he knew the word “freeze,” they said. They made it sound like it was his responsibility to save himself, as though he had control over the situation. How could they expect a 16-year-old from Japan to know how to act at gunpoint? How could he imagine people would fire a gun at other human beings so easily? What disturbed me was not just his death but also the possibility that I could get shot even in a completely innocent situation such as Halloween, and no one might defend me or sympathize with me when a small mistake led me to a fatal wound. Even the law might not protect me from a weapon that had far greater power than myself.
As I write this in 2020, I can’t help but question, what if the boy was a white boy? He could have moved if he didn’t hear the man or wasn’t used to being held up. What if the man with the gun was black instead of white? What if the boy was white and the man was black? What if the more juries were people of color instead of 8 white juries out of 10?
It was clear to the world that police violence in LA was a racist act. One could say the shooting of the Japanese boy was not racially motivated. But how certain could one be the trial was not? When I wrote the awful essay about discrimination at age 14, I had an absolute sense of morality that racism was wrong. But what didn’t occur to me then was how subtle racism could be, how blurry that boundary could get, and how such a boundary was often compromised for people of color.
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