After shootings in the Atlanta metropolitan area last week at spas owned by people of Asian descent which left eight people dead — Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Daoyou Feng, Xiaojie Tan, Paul Andre Michaels, Delania Ashley Yaun — New York residents and elected officials gathered at rallies and vigils across the city to “#StopAsianHate.”
Emboldened by the recent violence to create something positive, the Asian American Federation held a Peace Vigil on Friday evening in Union Square to honor those lost in Georgia and beyond, and as a call to action. The entire semicircle of the park running along East 14th Street soon became an ocean of people. Signs featured phrases such as, “It was racially motivated,” and “There is only one race in America, the human race.” People climbed into concrete planters next to shrubbery to try to get a better view of the speakers.
Speakers at the vigil, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, addressed the fact that many voters in 2020 sided with former President Donald Trump who, as the coronavirus crisis spread in the country, began using terms such as “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.”
“We have to be honest about the depths of white supremacy and hatred in this country,” Williams said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer spoke in solidarity with the Asian American community. “Our hearts ache for the families of those who are lost ... in Atlanta. ... Our hearts ache for the millions of Asian Americans who walk down the street looking over their shoulders wondering if someone might be doing harm to them as they walk down the streets and go into their homes,” Schumer said to the Union Square crowd.
Schumer went on to say that this Asian community is the “best in America,” with people who work hard, create businesses, love their families and make the city wonderful — a sentiment he continued to echo throughout the weekend at other pro-Asian American related events in the city.
In Union Square, the first Asian American elected to the New York State Senate, Sen. John Liu, spoke about the realities Asian Americans face. “The number of reports and incidents we have heard, people being avoided on the streets, in the stores, homes being vandalized, businesses and restaurants being boycotted, people getting disinfectant sprayed on them, ‘go back to China. Are you [going] to give me COVID? Maybe you should sit a little further away.’ People being shoved violently from behind, getting sent to the hospital, people having their faces slashed on the subways. And now we see this killing spree,” he said. “It wasn’t in our city, but it could very well have been right here in New York because we have been witness to so many incidents this past year.”
New Assaults in NYC
Just days after the shooting in Atlanta, there was a report of another assault on a New York subway. Shortly after boarding a train in Tribeca at 2:40 p.m. on March 19, a 68-year-old Asian man was called out. “You motherf---ing Asian,” his attacker said, according to witness George Okrepie, 55. The man was punched in the face and hit with what appeared to be crumpled up newspaper, Okrepie told The New York Daily News. “I was in a state of shock,” he said. On March 22, Marc Mathieu, 36, of the Bronx was arrested for the attack on the 68-year-old man on the 1 train.
Then on March 20, just before 9 a.m., a 66-year-old Asian man was attacked on the Lower East Side, on Allen Street near Houston Street. According to a report by the New York Post, the victim told police his aggressor said the word “Chinese” multiple times. This is currently being investigated by the NYPD.
On Sunday, March 21, Jack Liang and Ben Wei held the Asian American Pacific Islander Rally Against Hate in Columbus Park in Chinatown, an event that came together in four weeks. Event co-organizer Ben Wei spoke of the historical significance of the park, how in the 1800s it was “the original melting pot” in which different cultures and races came together: Asian, Irish, Black, Jewish and Italian. The crowd grew as a group called Running to Protest, which started a Black and Asian Solidarity protest in Union Square, ran a distanced 5K to Columbus Park to support the greater community.
Those taking the stage on Sunday included MC Jin, 38, the first Asian American solo rapper signed to a major record label in the U.S., who was joined by his 8-year-old son, Chance. Jin told the audience to “use your platform,” and rapped, “[I’m] Chinese and that this is for whoever will listen. Listen, we are more similar than different. Show you my world. That’s what I’m trying to do here because in New York City every day is Lunar New Year.”
Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang and his wife Evelyn reminisced about how they were in Georgia not too long ago when they campaigned for Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Andrew Yang spoke of the power of that Asian community. “Asian Americans are 4.7% of the vote there,” he said. “Do you think that did not make a difference in an election where there was a 1% margin and Asian Americans went to 2-to-1 for the Democrats?”
Evelyn Yang evoked the misogyny of the attacks in Atlanta. Six out of the eight deaths in Atlanta were Asian women. “When you look at the Atlanta mass murderer, who targeted Asian women, he regarded them as nothing more than sexual objects, a stain on society that he was trying to eradicate,” she said. “Now, I’m not going to get into as an Asian woman, how racism and misogyny is a two-headed beast, but what we do know is that racism is nothing new to our country. Racism against Asians is nothing new. It existed long before COVID. But what this mass murder, what this hate crime was, was a wake-up call to the racism that still persists against Asians today.”
At the rallies, people brought out many signs: “Stop Asian Hate,” “Racism is a virus,” “Solve this problem” and “Downplaying targeted harm equals justifying dehumanization” – among hundreds of others. But perhaps the most important sign was a more symbolic one, evident at Sunday’s rally: solidarity with the Asian community.
“Now we see this killing spree. It wasn’t in our city, but it could very well have been right here in New York because we have been witness to so many incidents this past year.” New York State Senator John Liu