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'This is not a game': Phoenix march highlights united voice against anti-Asian American hate crimes

Michael McDaniel
Arizona Republic

April 25, 2021

About 200 people gathered at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix on Saturday to unite against unequal treatment and hate crimes against communities of color, particularly Asian Americans.

About 200 people gathered at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix on Saturday to unite against unequal treatment and hate crimes against communities of color, particularly Asian Americans.

People held signs and gathered to march past busy corridors and apartments in downtown Phoenix. The group was determined to make their voices heard. The event was organized by Strength in Unity, a group founded in March with the goal of finding justice and equality for people of color.

Leading the march was May Tiwamangkala, who also organized in March a vigil against hate incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Saturday's march was also led by a local Black artist, Ahmed Cannon. He and one other person held a sign that read, "Be the change, be the power."

After not painting for seven years, Cannon said he found inspirations after recent events. His goal is to make people uncomfortable. Cannon referenced an image of a painting depicting Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd printed on his T-shirt.

"Unfortunately, you know some things like this, this shirt triggers you, it's supposed to," said Cannon. "This is not a game. And it's sad that it's 2020 and 2021, (and) that we're still dealing with this. At some point, hopefully, we'll get marches like this and awareness in the community and hopefully reform ... things will change."

The marchers' chants included "Racism is a virus, they will not divide us" and "This is what community looks like."

The group went past busy restaurants and apartment buildings, often met by cheers and honks. One resident tied a "defund the police" sign on her balcony as the group approached, which led to cheers. Japanese folk artist Ken Koshio performed a traditional Japanese drum line for the group as they returned. The event culminated with speakers from various groups, and performances by the Phoenix Boys Choir.

'If we don't speak up, we know that history will repeat'

Anti-Asian American sentiment gained force last year following statements from former President Donald Trump, who referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus" or "Kung Flu.” A number of events have been organized after the March shooting in Atlanta, where six victims were of Asian descent.

Donna Cheung, chair of the Japanese American Citizens League Civil Rights Committee, said she is bothered by the spike in anti-Asian American incidents.

"We're concerned about the anti-Asian hate that has been covering the country for over a year now, and with the recent increase in assault, especially against our elderly, with the Atlanta shootings, it's time to speak up because if we don't speak up, we know that history will repeat," Cheung said. "Japanese Americans, we understand the link between everyday racialized hostility and how when people in elected office do not speak out against it, it becomes normalized and then it becomes codified as law."

Earlier last week, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill aimed at addressing the growing trend of anti-Asian American, hate-based crime. The bill aims to specifically address and fund hate-crimes reporting and assigns officials to analyze incidents of hate crimes nationally.

In 2020, Phoenix saw a 31% increase in bias crime incidents from 2019, growing from 156 to 204 incidents. Through February, 2021 has showed an increase in incidents from 2020, with results from March still pending.

A group often linked with neo-Nazis, the National Socialist Movement, gathered in Phoenix on April 17 and delayed Strength in Unity's original rally.

Strength in Unity canceled its march against anti-Asian American violence at Margaret T. Hance Park "out of an abundance of caution," organizers said in a statement posted on Instagram. The organization said it was "very concerned with the potential for violence" and didn't want to "put anyone in harm's way."

Two days after the neo-Nazi gathering, National Socialist Movement leader Burt Colucci was arrested and accused of threatening a Black man with a gun in Chandler. Colucci is considered a commander of the neo-Nazi group based out of Florida, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Reach breaking news reporter Michael McDaniel at michael.mcdaniel@arizonarepublic.com or at 480-469-3144. Follow him on Twitter @themikemcdaniel.

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