Vigil for Christian Hall highlights struggles of Asian adoptees

By Patrick Armstrong, cofounder, Asian Adoptees of Indiana

On the one-year anniversary of Christian Hall’s murder, the Asian Adoptees of Indiana and the Indianapolis Liberation Center held a candlelight vigil at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, joining vigils and rallies held across the country to honor Christian’s life.

For those who don’t know: Christian Hall was a 19-year old Chinese American adoptee. He lived and grew up in Pennsylvania with his adoptive parents, Fe and Gareth, and by all accounts lived the life of an American kid. That didn’t keep him from struggling like we all do, and on December 30, 2020, Christian was struggling a lot. In the wake of a breakup and under the weight of isolation and the pandemic, Christian began experiencing a mental health crisis. Finding himself on a Pennsylvania overpass with a realistic-looking pellet gun, Christian phoned the state police anonymously to tell them that someone was in trouble. Once the police arrived, a 90-minute standoff ensued. At the end of that 90 minutes, the officers shot and killed him.

So many things went wrong after that. The state police and district attorney’s office claimed the killing was justified, that Christian was shot and killed because he would not drop his weapon, that at the moment of the shooting he was aiming his weapon at the officers and advancing towards them. They released an edited video that blurs out this moment on March 30, 2021. Luckily, a bystander released a video that contradicted what the state had asserted, and finally, in October, Christian’s parents received further validation: the unedited video of what happened that day, confirming that Christian was not advancing towards the officers and his hands were up when he was shot and killed.

Patrick Armstrong, a cofounder of the Asian Adoptees of Indiana, kicked off the round of speakers by sharing Christian’s story, parts of his own, and why it was so important for the general public to recognize the lack of resources provided to adoptees like Christian, specifically those dealing with mental health. He also spoke about the adoptee community and the unbalanced narrative that burdens all adoptees, especially once they become adults. Lastly, he touched on the systemic issues that all marginalized communities face and the power that comes from a diverse coalition of people and groups to fight for the rights of those who need them most.

Patrick was followed by Cory Werking, a member of the Asian Adoptees of Indiana. Cory shared his experience as a Korean adoptee in the state, the subtle racism that he faced, and the journey to where he is today. He also talked about his struggle with mental health, specifically highlighting his fight to acquire the appropriate mental health services to adequately diagnose the issues he had dealt with his entire life. This was the first time that Cory had shared his story in this way, sharing how finding community had allowed him to step out of his comfort zone for one of the first times.

Cory was followed by Lillian Barkes, another cofounder of the Asian Adoptees of Indiana. Lillian talked about growing up as a Chinese adoptee in a predominantly white community and the racism that comes with it, particularly as a woman of color. She talked about what it was like to navigate that dynamic, speaking plainly about conversations with her adoptive family regarding adoption, race, and the nuance of both loving your adoptive family and grieving the loss of your first family. She gave powerful testimony about seeking community and finding it amidst the pandemic.

Lillian was followed by Noah Leininger, a member of the Indianapolis Liberation Center. Noah came as an ally and spoke about the recent history of state violence in our local community. He specifically highlighted the case of Eleanor Northington, a black woman in Indianapolis who, in 2019, was killed by the IMPD during a mental health crisis. Despite needing care and attention, Eleanor was killed after being restrained by police with handcuffs, a knee on her back, and a cloth on her face. Her final words were, “I can’t breathe.”

The vigil opened and closed with a moment of silence for both Christian and all victims of state violence. It was emceed by Derek Ford, also a member of the Indianapolis Liberation Center. Derek was able to tie together the disparate threads that each speaker touched on, highlighting the importance of coming together in moments like this and the power that we have as individuals in this country to push back against the systems that be in order to find a new, better path forward that works for all of us, not just some of us. Whether we’re intercountry adoptees, folks of marginalized communities, or people who wish to be allies but don’t know where to start, our power comes when we operate together; change happens when we move in solidarity, together.