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Fighting Police Harassment

Philadelphia, 1992

Asian youth coming to our Asian American Youth Workshop complained of Philadelphia police harassing them and taking their pictures.

As AAU later learned, police in Upper Darby and Philadelphia were randomly pulling Asian youth off the streets, out of playgrounds and parks and taking photos of them. These photos were then put in an Asian Mug Book (or “Oriental Photo Book” as the police called it) that was shown to witnesses whenever crimes with Asian perpetrators were committed.

The illegal practice also coincided with national hysteria and fears of Asian youth gangs. Calls were made for a national Asian gang directory.

AAU’s youth workshop participants and anti-Asian violence committee members documented youths’ experiences of this practice and sought to combat stereotypes and racist portraits of our youth. AAU also succeeded in bringing media, legal support, and community attention to the mug book issue.

As a result, both Philadelphia and the Upper Darby police departments said they were stopping the practice. However, the destruction of the Mug Books was never adequately documented.