API and National Justice Organizations in Solidarity in Support of Transparency, Accountability and TRUTH in Policing
To all the organizations that stand in solidarity with the Southeast Asian Coalition (SEAC):
On March 25, 2014, Chieu Di Thi Vo, a 47 year old, mentally-ill Vietnamese woman was shot and killed by former Greensboro police officer, T.J. Bloch. SEAC has been working alongside the family to advocate for the family to be allowed to view the footage, as well as to be a voice for the community behind the Vo family. For two years, Chieu Di’s family endured the emotional anguish of not knowing what happened to their beloved sister and daughter in her last moments. On May 3, 2015, the family was finally allowed to view the footage from the body camera that former officer Bloch wore the day he shot Chieu Di. After two years, the family finally knows that the narrative conveyed to the public by the police officer and the police department is not the true story. The family was enraged to know that they have been lied to, and that the public has been lied to. The family asked that the footage be released, so that the public may know also what truly happened to Chieu Di in her last moments.
The story of Chieu Di Thi Vo's passing is unfortunately not a unique one. A few weeks ago, in SEAC's home of Charlotte, officers from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) and SWAT team were called to respond to a man who was allegedly trying to commit suicide. That night, Bong Ackhavong, an allegedly mentally ill Laotian refugee was also shot and killed by the police. To us, this does not represent a mere coincidence, but two incidences that are representative of larger issues that plague our community. One issue is the subject of mental illness in our refugee communities. When "unseen" mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety are present in our communities, they often go unaddressed, because of the lack of understanding and education. Another issue is how police are trained to react to members of the community with mental illnesses. As the Vo family's statement says, former officer Bloch "only waited for a couple of seconds before he started opening fire on her." He made no effort to understand the situation, no awareness he was dealing with a mentally ill person with limited English proficiency. He took no steps to deescalate the situation before he opened fire. The same applies to Bong's situation. Why didn't the police take action to calm him?
Police officers are here to serve and protect us. They must create spaces of safety and security. In the past couple of years, in the cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, Bong Ackhavong, and of course, Chieu Di Thi Vo (#SayTheirNames), we see police standards provoke fear, violence and abuse of authority. Police must be held responsible when they haven’t done their jobs. It is important for the body camera footage to be released to the families of victims of police brutality, but also to the public if requested, to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability in institutions sworn to protect and serve the people. The police swear to protect and serve the people, and therefore are accountable to US, the PUBLIC. We have a right to demand truth and transparency from our police departments.
The Greensboro City Council voted on Monday, May 9th to release the body camera footage to the public, the following week. With very short notice, the city council then went on to release the footage in a press event, with the police chief narrating and preemptively explaining each portion of the video, on May 11th. The event was closed to the public. Later that day, the body camera footage and the video of the press event was released online. After viewing the footage, SEAC stands even more firmly behind the Vo family and supports their statement that the story told by the police does not match what truly happened. SEAC believes that Chieu Di Thi Vo was wrongfully killed by this police officer. SEAC would like your organization's support as we continue to demand that the Greensboro City Council treats the Vo family with respect, and never makes another family wait this long for closure. We also demand a review of the Greensboro Police Department's policy and training. Neither mental illness nor language should prevent an officer from properly doing their job. Additionally, there is a NC House Bill (972) in the works that would take away the power of municipalities to decide whether body camera footage can be released. We disagree. Our city governments are chosen by the people and are accountable to the people, therefore it is more democratic for decisions like releasing footage are made locally. SEAC asks for your organization's support of our efforts to ensure that the decision to release such footage always be in the hands of the city governments and the public that they serve.
The SEAC Village