Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Manifesto, Another Killing

In what is being called the worst mass murder since the Virginia Tech massacre Jiverly Wong, a 41-year-old Vietnamese immigrant armed with two hand guns burst into the American Civic Association in Binghampton, New York, where he took the lives of 13 immigrants enrolled in citizenship and other skills classes before turning the gun on himself. The killings that occurred on Friday, April 5, bear so many similarities to the murderous spree that took place on the campus of Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.

The perpetrators of both crimes were both Asian immigrants who believed they were being persecuted by society. Both killings occurred in the month of April, the murder scene in both cases were institutions of learning of some sort, both killers were described as having mental health issues and importantly, both of the killers sent in manifestos to television stations either detailing or trying to provide an explanation for their inexplicable tirades.

Jiverly Wong is a coward and a weakling. Frustrated with his own life he decided to take the lives of others, some of whom were satisfied with their own personal journey. Wong took the lives of 13 immigrants each with a different face, background, and life path. What most of his victims shared in common was they had all come to New York in pursuit of the American dream.

Wong took the lives of promising people like Layla Khalil, 57, an Iraqi immigrant who was settling into a peaceful existence for the first time in many years in the United States. He also ended the hope of an American dream for a Haitian couple, Marc Henry Bernand and his wife, Maria Sonia Bernand who leave behind two children, forced to face the world without the love and direction of their parents.

There has been no explanation, other than that Wong's biggest frustration beside losing his job was that he was constantly taunted for his poor English diction. Hence, I cannot understand why he would kill others like himself who were probably facing the same ridicule. He killed immigrants, most of whom were not proficient in English either. If his intent was to inflict punishment on his antagonists why didn't he seek out a gathering of perfectly blue-eyed, blond haired, baseball watching, hamburger eating, full blooded Americans? Why did he choose to murder immigrants like himself? The reasons for which no answers may ever be found just go to show that Wong was indeed, like Seung-Hui Cho a frustrated coward. The murders were senseless. Whether he had killed Americans or immigrants will never be enough justification for his actions. Almost every human has endured some form of ridicule or felt inadequate at times.

Like Cho, Wong was not new to the United States. Records show that he came to the United States in the early 1980s. He had held a series of jobs and while it might be unfair to indict him for not learning to speak English he's had almost thirty years to learn the language.

Are Wong and Cho a unique case or do they provide a warning that perhaps needs to be heeded. Both killers are Asian immigrants and although China and Vietnam may seem worlds apart, could it be possible that there is something Asian about the killings? Both men had a history of mental health issues that their families were aware of. And while both their families were shocked by the killings, it seems they expected these individuals to snap at some point.

It will be interesting to study the perception of mental health in the Asian community and the responses if any to the issue. Is mental health so stigmatized that affected individuals in the community are unable to get the help they need? Further, Asian communities are often perceived as tight knit, so why did Wong and Cho fall through the cracks?

The repercussions of the Virginia Tech massacre and Friday's killings on members of the larger Asian community will be grave because the parallels between both separate incidents reveal a pattern, one that might be interpreted as an outright attack against American culture. If so, it may be helpful to begin useful dialogues within Asian communities, not only in light of the killing sprees but because behind the facade of a strong communal bond might be individuals who are time bombs waiting to go off.

Cho still holds the unfortunate record for the single greatest mass killing spree in the history of the United States. Perhaps, Wong may have attempted to beat that record. Hence, when the history of the world is written April will be remembered for Cho, Wong, Columbine, and the Rwandan genocide. Is it something about April or something about Asian immigrants? Or, maybe it's something about suburban white kids, or tribalistic Africans. But then it all occurred sometime in April...


  1. "could it be possible that there is something Asian about the killings..."

    That's just so incredibly politically incorrect; it's almost shocking. I'd be wary about making such sweeping generalizations. I understand the need to establish causality to prevent future occurrences but the way you've expressed it isn't terribly fair to Asians or other minority groups who've had to bear the unfortunate brunt of stereotypes.

  2. I understand the error in making sweeping generalizations, hence, the question was meant to be rhetorical.

    The same question has been posed about Africans in view of tribal injustices and war. I believe the onus then is for these monority groups to disprove these theories or provide other sufficient explanations.