From Neighborhood Safety Companions:

Historic Wintersburgh Press Conference March 19, 2022
https://safetywalks.org/investigate-wintersburg/

On February 25, 2022, fire destroyed 2 of the 6 buildings at Historic Wintersburg, and is now under investigation for possible arson. Republic Services, owners of the property, demolished both buildings several hours after the fire, destroying evidence for the investigation. They previously applied to demolish all 6 historic buildings so they can develop or sell. In the lead up to the fire, Historic Wintersburg volunteers have been attacked by racists on social media, stalked, photographed, and been subjected to other acts of intimidation against the preservation project.

 

Mary Urashima, organizer for the project, has requested that organizations and individuals write letters to the Huntington Beach mayor and city council demanding:

 

  • An arson investigation. 
  • That Republic Services cooperate with government agencies to help preserve the buildings.
  • To bring Republic Services to the bargaining table to arrange a purchase of the property by preservationists. 

 

The addresses to email are Mayor Barbara Delgleize, [email protected]. City Council, [email protected]. (Urashima)

Commenters on social media have demanded independent state and federal level investigations, which have been done before, to investigate the Fountain Valley PD in the 1980s and 1990s. (Hayashida, NSC)

 

This fire happened as hate incidents have skyrocketed across the country. A recent report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism said hate incidents, which include hate crimes, have increased 339% from 2020 through 2021. (Yam)

 

Attacks against Asian Places of Worship in 2020 and 2021, locally, have been numerous and dramatic.

 

  • Six Buddhist temples in Orange County were vandalized, and people were verbally harassed, in November and December of 2020. (Introvigne, Kandil)
  • Higashi Honganji in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo was vandalized, and arson attempted. (Peralta)
  • Konko Church, a Shinto shrine in Boyle Heights, was attacked by arsonists twice. (Yamamoto)
  • An old Japanese American church in Sacramento was vandalized. (CBS Sacramento, CAIR)
  • Two Seattle, WA churches were vandalized with graffiti including “China, you will pay,” “go home” and “f–k China,” even though only 5% of the congregation was Chinese. (Chen, Esteban)
  • Three statues were destroyed at Wat Lao Santitham, a Buddhist temple in the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas. (Stills)
  • In Calgary, Canada, a Vietnamese Canadian church was burned. (CBC News)

 

Other sources report additional incidents at temples, mosques, video conference church meetings. (Kandil, ACLU, Borja)

 

Vandalism against ethnic churches should be understood intersectionality, as not only an attack against a place of worship, and not only as an attack against a specific minority, but an attack against the intersection of the two. 

 

Racists, typically white Christians, have attacked Black Christian churches and other houses of worship since they originated, because the serve as community political centers to defend Black people, and increase Black power. (Boddie)  Japanese American faith organizations have similar functions: popular mobilization, protection, and power. 

 

Causes for anti-Asian violence and vandalism are numerous, but it’s often irrational, where general anger from one situation results in violence against an Asian person or Asian institution completely unrelated to that situation.

 

  • China is blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, and Asian people in western countries experience rising rates of violence. (Yam)
  • The infamous murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was by autoworkers angry about international competition from cars made in Japan. (Guillermo)
  • In 2016, when North Korea was in the news for nuclear missile testing, a Korean American church in Buena Park was vandalized with swastikas. (Ryan)
  • In 1984 three Vietnam war veterans burned a Tibetan Buddhist temple after dissatisfaction with Veterans Affairs, a US government agency. (Kandil)

 

The fire at this historic site is happening at the same time that reactionaries are mounting an attack on “Critical Race Theory”, or CRT, in the state legislatures. CRT is a legal theory, but their use of CRT is a code word for Ethnic Studies and accurate U.S. history. It’s a push back against teaching minority histories in the schools. (Sawchuck) 

 

It’s against this ambient and legislative attack on history education that we must consider this fire could have been arson, motivated by hatred or anger at a racial minority.

 

References

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