Gun Violence Among Asian Youth Down, But Pain Remains

Gun Violence Among Asian Youth Down, But Pain Remains

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Photo: Youth4Justice

SAN FRANCISCO--Despite some widely reported incidents of violent home invasions and gun homicides involving young Asians in recent years, gun violence among 10-to-24-year-old Asian youths in California has been declining.

Only 24 Asians were among the 680 homicide victims in this age bracket in 2010, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Asian gun homicide rate was a distant third to Latino and African American rates, respectively. Most victims were killed with guns, mostly handguns.

“Historically, gun violence among young Asians is actually very low, often gang-related,” said Barry Krisberg. “There are fewer Asian gangs and they’re not as big as in Latino or black communities.”

Krisberg is a Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

Even youth incarceration has declined, according to Krisberg, who said the number of Asian youths in the California Youth Authority is down from “200 or so a few years back” to single digits.

Still, gun homicide was the second leading cause of death among Asian youths in the state, after unintentional injuries, most of those car accidents, according to the CDC data.

Social Factors

Most young Asian victims were killed by someone they knew, and most of the deaths were not related to any other felony, such as robbery. But a considerable number was gang-related.

Rates of gun violence also vary among Asian groups. Traditional Asian groups—Chinese, Japanese and Filipino--that are long-term immigrants who have settled, adjusted or assimilated tend to show very low gun homicides.

“More recent immigrants—Southeast Asians who went through horrible experiences as refugees--have higher rates than other Asians,” Krisberg observed."

The second-generation of Southeast Asian youth born in the United States — such as Hmong, Lao, Cambodian or Vietnamese — tend to get caught up in violent incidents as they face challenges and pressures in school and the streets, Krisberg said.

He explained further that the parents are struggling to get rooted and stabilized and are adjusting to a new language, economic difficulties and often confusing values.

Poverty runs high in these communities, and high rates of limited English proficiency also prevail. The high school dropout rates among Southeast Asians are disturbing: 40 percent among Hmong; 38 percent for Laotians; 35 percent for Cambodians.

Because of the social realities they face, violence tends to be higher among young immigrants. “And this is true for all immigrants, by the way,” Krisberg emphasized. “If you go back far enough, say in the 1940s, you’ll see newspaper reports of Japanese youth gangs, but today that community is very stable.”

Violence Down for All Groups

Despite the disadvantageous conditions facing young Asian immigrants, gun violence among them has actually gone down since 2006, the height of gang and drug-trafficking activities.

“In fact, it is down for all groups in the state, with some notable exceptions, like Oakland,” Krisberg said. (The rate was highest in Monterey County, with Alameda County coming in second.)

Gun homicides in the state decreased by an average of two percent across all young people of all ethnic groups from 2006, CDC data show.

“The statistics may be true,” said David Inocencio, “but the young people we work with would not agree that gun violence is down.” From their point of view, he noted, gun violence weighs heavily in their lives.

Inocencio, the director and co-founder of The Beat Within, a youth rehabilitation-through-writing program developed at New America Media, said “there’s still too much trauma” evident in the writings of the incarcerated youth his program works with. The Beat Within holds 120 workshops a week in 25 juvenile halls across the nation.

“In our experience, the pain has not gone down with the statistics,” Inocencio said.