September 27, 2017
On June 13, 2017, hours before his high school graduation, Tommy Le was shot twice in the back and killed by police officers in Burien (Greater Seattle). As more facts come to light about the circumstances of his killing, they contradict the King County Sheriff Office’s press release of the event.
What happened here recalls the fatal police shooting three years ago in Ferguson of Michael Brown, another young man of color heading to college with his future ahead of him. Michael Brown’s death sparked the new movement for Black Lives, yet there remains a blanket of silence about institutional violence to other minorities. Tommy Le’s death shows that all people of color face the threat of police violence. It is a sobering reminder to Vietnamese and Asian Americans that in the context of increased overt forms of white supremacy their lives will not be spared. Vietnamese and Asian American must speak out against violence towards all people of color.
As Mai Do, a member of the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT), wrote on July 2, 2017: “It is ineffective and dangerous to pretend that negligent, violent policing is not an issue that affects more than just African Americans.”
The inconsistencies of the police narrative about the necessary use of force against a young man known for his “bubbly” personality who was holding a pen and Le’s father’s demand to know what really happened warrants greater transparency. What happened that night to Tommy Le? How can we make sure his life and tragic death are not forgotten?
The local community of Seattle has mobilized. Involved with organizing a public forum with the Sheriff about the deadly shooting and fundraiser to assist Tommy’s family with funeral and legal expenses, Jeffrey Vu said, “The family, especially his grandmother, did not want to take any money. After we explained that this fight was to protect Asian Americans and other marginalized communities, the family came and spoke at the public forum because they wanted to be there for the community and to make sure that what happened to Tommy will not happen to others like him.”
Community members have asked the prosecutor, King County Sheriff Office, and elected officials to push for expediting the inquest process for the case. At the time of this writing, more than 3 months after Tommy’s murder, an inquest still has not been scheduled. Tommy Le’s family deserves to know the facts about his death and to receive justice against any wrongdoing. However, the continuing delay raises the possibility of an institutional effort to de-emphasize the importance of this tragedy. In addition, although the Sheriff indicated his support for an initiative for better police training in de- escalation and use of deadly force and intends to hand over the investigation to the FBI, he suggested that Washington State Patrol would carry out future investigations. The use of other law enforcement agencies rather than an independent civilian body investigating such cases will not be an effective deterrent against further police brutality.
PIVOT calls for the Sheriff and other officials to fulfill their pledge to protect and serve all people by conducting a thorough and timely investigation of Tommy Le’s killing, by holding those who are responsible for his unnecessary death accountable, and by implementing training and oversight policies to prevent this from happening to other Vietnamese Americans and people of color.