Angered by incidents of what they term discrimination and harassment, a group of Asian-Americans in Orange County has formed a new countywide organization to battle for civil rights.
Called AWARE, which stands for Alliance Working for Asian Rights and Empowerment, the group is spearheaded by Daniel C. Tsang, a Costa Mesa resident who is a lecturer and library staffer at UC Irvine. The 10 founding members, including Tsang, organized AWARE on Sunday.
“We’re not sure if there is an increase of harassment of Asian-Americans going on in Orange County, but more instances are being reported,” Tsang said in an interview Tuesday. “We want to empower Asian-Americans to keep lines of communication open and to work together on issues like hate crimes.”
Asian-Americans, according to the 1990 federal census, constitute about 7.4% of Orange County’s population.
AWARE is an outgrowth of a dispute over a Fountain Valley police practice of taking photos of suspected gang members. Tsang said the Asian-Americans who protested the Fountain Valley police practice are among the founding members of AWARE. The group has not yet elected officers.
Tsang cited the Jan. 9 beating of a Vietnamese-American in Laguna Beach as an example of an alleged hate crime. In that incident, the victim, Loc Minh Truong, was critically injured by youths who attacked him. Police labeled it a hate crime, saying the attackers thought Truong was gay.
But Tsang said he and other Asian-Americans believe Truong was also targeted for assault because of his race. He said AWARE will be vigilant about speaking out for Asian-American victims.
AWARE will also be a citizens’ watchdog agency against police abuse, Tsang said.
“We are opposed to police taking mug shots (photos) of young people just because they’re Asian-Americans,” Tsang said, referring to the Fountain Valley Police Department’s compilation of photos of suspected gang members.
Fountain Valley police and city officials have said repeatedly that no discrimination is involved in photographing suspected gang members.
Mayor Laurann Cook said both the city attorney and an independent attorney specializing in city litigation had found the police practice to be legal. Moreover, Cook said, photographs are taken only of youths who give written consent first.
But Tsang on Tuesday said members of AWARE believe Asian-American youths are so frightened by police that they agree, out of intimidation, to being photographed. “You can fight gangs and crime without having to violate constitutional rights.”
Tsang said AWARE “wants to build good relations between young people and police. We want to help police to do a better job.”
He said AWARE’s goals also include the following:
* Seeking a state law to ban police from taking photos of people who are stopped but not arrested.
* Encouraging cities in Orange County to have citizens, including Asian-Americans, review and comment on police procedures.
* Conducting “youth outreach programs,” such as summer job programs, for Asian-American young people.
* Pushing for more ethnic diversity, including the hiring of more Asian-Americans in city police departments.