“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the Prison Industrial Complex” by Raymond Magsaysay
Date Written: February 24, 2021
Abstract: Recent uprisings against racial injustice, sparked by the killings of George Floyd and others, have triggered urgent calls to overhaul the U.S. criminal “justice” system. Yet Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the fastest-growing group in the country, have largely been left out of these conversations. Identifying and addressing this issue, I intercalate AAPIs into powerful, contemporary critiques of the prison industrial complex, including emergent abolitionist legal scholarship. I argue that the model minority myth, an anti-Black racial project, leads to the exclusion of AAPIs in both mainstream and critical studies of crime and carcerality. I begin the intervention by critiquing the lacuna that exists within Asian American Jurisprudence, specifically the erasure of criminalized AAPIs’ voices and experiences. I then demonstrate that AAPIs are caught in the carceral web of mass incarceration by highlighting the lived experiences of AAPI youth with the school-to-prison pipeline, in addition to excavating the minimal publicly available data on AAPI prison populations. Adopting multidisciplinary and multimodal methods, I identify and analyze distinct forms of racial profiling and racialized bullying that drive AAPI students out of schools and into prisons. I pay specific attention to the criminalization of various subgroups under the “AAPI” umbrella as whiz kids, gang members, or terrorists. In uncovering previously unexamined dimensions of the criminal system, I stress how the exclusion of AAPIs in critical discourse obscures the actual scale of the carceral state, erases complex intra- and interracial dynamics of power, marginalizes criminalized AAPIs, and concurrently reinforces anti-Blackness and other toxic ideologies. The Article therefore reaffirms Critical Race, intersectional, and abolitionist analyses of race and criminalization. It also directly links Asian American Jurisprudence to on-going abolitionist critiques of the prison industrial complex. I conclude with a proffer of abolitionist-informed solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline as well as a call, particularly to AAPI communities, for fiercer and more meaningful coalition-building.