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EERILY SIMILAR
Written by Gode Davis



Gode Davis Background Info   

Gode Davis is the filmmaker producing American Lynching: Strange And Bitter Fruit -- the first feature-length documentary focused on the tragic and shameful phenomenon of lynching in the United States of America.

A segment of the film, "Gold Mountain" will deal exclusively with the entire milieu of anti-Asian violence and lynching.

The film's presence of the web can be found at www.americanlynching.com Feedback, ideas for additional Asian-related content, and fundraising ideas (all monies independently raised) are eagerly welcomed.

WHEN THUNG PHETAKOUNE, a 62-year-old Laotian-American, was mortally wounded in the parking lot of a New Hampshire apartment complex on July 14, 2001 -- he died two days later -- the tragic event was immediately downplayed. His assailant, Richard Labbe, 35, pushed the much smaller Phetakoune and caused the elder man to strike his unprotected head against the blacktop pavement. According to witness accounts, Mr. Phetakoune had happened by a confrontation between Labbe and the complex's property manager on that fateful Saturday morning, and when he tried to speak to the manager about a personal matter, Labbe turned his attention to Phetakoune, verbally attacking him as "one of you f*cking Vietnamese." The one-sided tirade escalated until Labbe pushed Phetakoune down with enough force to cause "blunt-impact injury to the head, with subdural hematoma, skull fractures, cerebral contusions and cerebral edema," according to the local chief medical examiner, Thomas Andrew. An affidavit filed in a Concord-area New Hampshire courtroom by the local police stated that Labbe told police at the time of his arrest, "What's going on is that those Asians killed Americans and you won't do anything about it so I will. Call it payback." Labbe was referring to the massive yet undeclared conflict involving Americans in Southeast Asia often blandly referred to as "the Vietnam War." That conflict cost the lives of 156,000+ American military personnel (including those of Asian descent) and more than a million Asians. Ironically, unbeknownst to the ignorant Labbe -- Thung Phetakoune fought alongside Americans in that conflict -- as a member of the Laotian army.

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, lenient forces began to rally around Labbe, a Caucasian -- even after Mr. Phetakoune's death became public knowledge. Although New Hampshire has a little-used sentence-enhancing hate-crime statute that could boost a minimum sentence other than murder by 10 to 30 years, Labbe was instead charged with second-degree assault -- punishable by as little as 90 days in a county jail -- levied mostly because Labbe resisted arrest while being apprehended. Manslaughter is still being considered, as Mr. Phetakoune's demise was labeled a homicide -- but without a hate-crime onus attached. "My understanding is that Mr. Labbe frequently had Laotian children in his home," said attorney Joseph Welsh of the public defender's office, a counselor for Mr. Labbe. "I would say Mr. Labbe had no hatred of any ethnicities, including Laotians, and proper investigation will bear that out," Welsh added. Further investigation by DCF authorities in New Hampshire has revealed that Mr. Labbe indeed entertained Laotian and other children in his home -- most of them female adolescents gravitating toward delinquency. Labbe's father, in defense of his son, attempted to deflect blame for Richard Labbe's murderous attack against Thung Phetakoune onto his son's purported alcoholism. "Alcohol knocks his brain cuckoo; when he drinks that stuff, he goes haywire," Carlton Labbe said.

WHILE RICHARD LABBE'S ultimate punishment remains undecided, his case is reminiscent of another tragedy -- the unprovoked racially biased murder of Vincent Chin a generation ago. Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese-American, was beaten to death with a baseball bat in Detroit on June 19, 1982. Changes Chin's murderers, laid off Caucasian assembly line workers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, blamed Japanese carmakers for Detroit's problems in the auto industry. Ebens was heard saying, "It is because of you little motherf*ckers that we're out of work!" The next year, Ebens and Nitz negotiated a plea bargain and received two years probation and $3,700 in fines each. While the Asian community mobilized to protest the lenient sentences and even were successful in enlisting the United States Department of Justice to make the Chin murder a Federal case for violating Mr. Chin's civil rights, the upshot was that Ebens and Nitz never served a day in jail for murdering Vincent Chin.

ALTHOUGH THE PHETAKOUNE TRAGEDY may well result in significant jail time served by Richard Labbe, it has not garnered the national publicity or sense of outrage that became associated with the murder of Mr. Chin. Such differences in circumstance loom large, but in the macro picture -- the historical perspective framing these events and thousands of other outrages perpetrated by Caucasians against Asians living in America since the mid-19th Century -- it is the basic circumstances that remain eerily similar -- a less vehement societal reaction tends to occur if atrocities are committed against Asian Americans, or against Asians living in America, and the perpetrator happens to be "white." Probably corresponding dynamics exist. Less societal reaction occurs if the victim of a crime or atrocity is Asian, than if the victim of a crime is white. Also correspondingly, if the perpetrator of a crime is considered non-white, and the victim is a non-marginalized white, these crimes tend to become sensationalized in the press and to merit harsher penalties from the American judicial system. What all this boils down to is simple but regrettable. Asians living in America and Asian Americans are still considered the "other." Stemming from a long unfortunate tradition of anti-Asian (most often anti-Chinese) rhetoric, hysteria, legislation, and violence -- the "grim echoes" of such policies and actions linger in the "mainstream" American psyche -- even though many Asians have been otherwise incorporated into the American mainstream.


Vincent Chin
A Crime of Hate   

" IT ISN'T FAIR" - these words were Vincent Chin's last before he lost consciousness. On June 19, 1982, Chin, a 27 year-old Chinese American, was beaten to death with a baseball bat in Detroit by two Caucasian men. The perpetrators were Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who blamed Japanese carmakers for Detroit's problems in the auto industry. Ebens was heard saying, "It is because of you little motherf*ckers that we're out of work!"

In Michigan v. Ebens (1983), Ebens and Nitz negotiated a plea bargain and received two years probation and $3,700 in fines each. The Asian community became outraged by these lenient sentences and mobilized to get "Justice for Vincent Chin."

Click HERE for the rest of the article.

THE CAUSES of such deep-rooted anti-Asian discrimination are multi-faceted, complex. In the beginning, a WASPish America resented the economic competition of immigrants often perceived as a "Yellow Peril." The Chinese and other immigrant Asians were largely unassimilated. Viewed as inscrutable aliens, filthy foreigners, purveyors of prostitution and keepers of opium dens -- they were subjected to an overwhelming racial prejudice. While researching for my current film project, I have also discovered that Chinese and other Asian populations and communities frequently experienced the terror associated with extreme violence -- even to being lynched to death by "mainstream" mobs. I estimate that perhaps as many as 200 Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and other Asians were sacrificed to "Judge Lynch" -- a tragic American phenomenon.

UNLIKE OTHER GROUPS historically discriminated against and treated in this shameful fashion, Asians in America have traditionally tended to eschew the labels and practices inherent to minority status for fear of being perceived as a minority in need of "special treatment." Asian populations have often endured special treatment and exclusion or even internment as a race or ethnicity, only to seek a restoration to an assimilation viewed as normalcy (within American society) at the earliest possible opportunity. This posture has acted like a double-edged sword: without a collective societal perception of U.S. -based Asians as a persecuted minority, exclusionary perceptions lumping all Asians in America as "the other" are allowed to linger. This, unfortunately, is the truth of it. *** Gode Davis




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