Published: 11:51, February 22, 2022 | Updated: 14:01, February 22, 2022
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Outrage voiced as attacks on Asians continue in US
By ​Heng Weili and Minlu Zhang in New York

Significant rise reported in New York hate crimes

A demonstration is staged in Philadelphia on Nov 30 against Asian American hate. (MATT ROURKE / AP)

High-profile crimes against Asians in the United States are continuing at a frightening rate despite efforts by politicians and prosecutors to address the situation.

The most recent case involved the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old Korean American woman in New York on Feb 13.

While Asian organizations decry the crimes and plead for help, there are obstacles to criminal justice, such as lenient bail laws and lax punishment of repeat offenders, who are often out on the streets posing a threat to innocent people. Some offenders are homeless and/or mentally ill.

While such individuals can be a threat to anyone regardless of race, Asians have borne a disproportionate brunt of the attacks, especially in the past two years, with violent offenders using the COVID-19 pandemic to justify their assaults. Women and the elderly have frequently been victimized, as they are perceived to be more vulnerable.

According to the New York Police Department, or NYPD, hate crimes against Asians jumped from 30 in 2020 to 133 last year, a 343 percent rise. Complaints of bias crimes against Asians accounted for 25 percent of all hate crime reports in the city last year.

New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain, has pleaded with lawmakers to allow judges more discretion at bail hearings, but during a recent trip to Albany, the state capital, his plea met with resistance.

New York state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Adams was told behind closed doors there was no way the legislature would adopt the Democratic mayor's proposal to let judges lock up defendants deemed dangerous to the public (before deciding whether to release suspects before trial), the New York Post reported.

On Wednesday, Stewart-Cousins said on a New York radio show: "We're happy that he came up (to Albany). We went through the process that occurred during the conversation about bail and bail reforms and assured him that we had considered a variety of things. But rolling back reforms that are really directed in allowing people accused of misdemeanors to have their day in court is not, you know, as we saw, the actual answer."

Rhetoric cited

Asian groups have cited the rhetoric of former president Donald Trump during the pandemic, blaming China for the virus. He and other US politicians have used terms such as "kung flu", "China virus" and "Wuhan virus".

In addition to the pandemic, issues played up in Western media such as trade disputes and the situations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region have fueled anti-China and anti-Asian sentiment. Tariffs imposed by Trump have continued under the administration of President Joe Biden.

Justin Yu, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, said at a vigil on Feb 7 in memory of Christina Yuna Lee, a talented graphic designer fatally stabbed more than 40 times early this month: "We all chose New York as our home. We have our family here. We raise our children here. We have our grandchildren here. Are we making a mistake?"

Lee was stabbed by a man who followed her into her apartment building and up six flights of stairs in Manhattan's Chinatown early on Feb 6.

Assamad Nash, 25, a homeless man charged with murdering Lee, was not ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation despite his connection to three other criminal cases, Newsweek reported. Nash, also charged with attempted sexual assault, is being held without bail.

Yu said: "We New Yorkers, especially AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) New Yorkers, are paying the price. We are being killed, being attacked, being pushed down the subway, rocks are being thrown at us on the sidewalk. We deserve better treatment in New York City.

"Today, we are moaning, we are crying, we are trembling in fear, we are terrified. Do something, New York City. Wake up, New York City. Please do something. We are begging."

People gather for a candlelight vigil in memory of Michelle Go, a Chinese American killed in a recent subway attack in Times Square, New York. (YUKI IWAMURA / AP)

Don Lee, chairman of Homecrest Community Services in Chinatown, Manhattan, said: "I don't think people know us-I think Asians are invisible to them. I think the lack of understanding of who we are, the lack of understanding of our history, the lack of understanding that we are humans too, I think that's what adds to it."

Ben Wei, the founder of Asians Fighting Injustice, helped organize a vigil last month for another victim, Michelle Go.

The 40-year-old, a Chinese American from California who held an MBA and worked in mergers and acquisitions for consulting company Deloitte, was killed when she was shoved into the path of an oncoming train at a Times Square subway station on Jan 15 by a homeless man claiming he was God.

Wei said: "New York City has failed Chinatown. New York City has failed AAPIs and Asians. We do not feel safe. New York City has also failed our allies, communities and minorities of color."

Meanwhile, Kaiming Chen, whose father was attacked two years ago, pulled out a photograph showing a man on a ventilator lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

"This is my father. Two years ago, he was knocked unconscious by a homeless individual. On that day, my father was sitting outside 124 East Broadway in Chinatown when a homeless individual was walking by. For no reason, he decided to punch my dad. My father's eye was injured-his eyeball almost fell out," Chen said.

"I'm opposed to the 91 East Broadway shelter," Chen said of another shelter for the homeless proposed for the neighborhood. "We have a very simple request-to live in a peaceful, safe environment."

According to Jackie Wong, a member of Concerned Citizens of East Broadway, there are five shelters in Manhattan's Chinatown, and three more will be built in the area.

All eight shelters will be within a 1.6-kilometer radius, he said, adding: "We are a very condensed neighborhood. Don't forget that."

Such shelters in New York are located mainly in Harlem, Midtown West, Chinatown-Lower East Side, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and central Bronx, according to Wong.

"Many other neighborhoods have zero or very few shelters," he said.

"They are putting all the shelters in low-income neighborhoods. They are taking advantage of people who are more vulnerable and letting people who have more money take advantage of the situation," Wong said. "They are not bearing any of these burdens. They put all the burden on the community of low-income people."

Kathryn Freed, a former New York City Council member and former New York Supreme Court justice, said: "We have to deal with the homeless crisis in the city. You cannot expect the jails to deal with the homeless crisis. They are not set up for it. The Corrections Department is not set up for it.

"Right now, the idea of trying to put a shelter like that, a facility like that, in this community is totally insensitive to what's going on in the community, which we have to deal with first."

The city is also planning a 40-story jail in the area, which already has a jail, she added.

Frank Smith, a Chinatown resident, said: "Remember it's not racism; it's not black and Asian. It's a mental health and drug issue."

Victim dies

In another case, Yao Pan Ma, 61, a Chinese immigrant who was randomly assaulted in April last year, died on New Year's Eve after eight months in a coma.

Jarrod Powell, 50, has been indicted on a charge of second-degree murder as a hate crime in the case.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in statement on Feb 10, "The devastating death of Yao Pan Ma, a beloved father of two, occurred amidst a surge of anti-Asian attacks targeting our families, friends, neighbors and New York values."

When he was struck, Ma was collecting cans to recycle and use for his rent money.

Powell told police he had been attacked by two "Korean or Japanese" men the day before.

Flowers are placed in tribute to Brianna Kupfer, a 24-year-old student killed at a furniture store in Los Angeles on Jan 13. (ASHLEY LANDIS / AP)

In November, Bew Jirajariywetch, a model from Thailand, was attacked by a man at a Manhattan subway station after she left a concert. In video footage, the suspect is seen striking her and holding her down on the platform.

"He hit me multiple times in the face to make sure I couldn't make any noise, and then touched me inappropriately. He took my purse before he was gone," the victim said, speaking alongside her attorney on a television show last week.

The NYPD said Kevin Douglas, 40, had been charged in the incident with second-degree robbery, third-degree robbery and second-degree assault.

Douglas was arrested for another alleged assault the same day.

In March last year, a 65-year-old woman from the Philippines was stomped on by a man as she made her way to church near Times Square. Her attacker told her, "You don't belong here." The victim was hospitalized with a fractured pelvis.

Witnesses to the attack were shocked by video footage showing that three lobby staff members working in a building fronting the sidewalk where the attack occurred did not intervene, and one security guard closed the door. Although they eventually helped the woman and called police, the three men were subsequently fired.

Brandon Elliot, 38, was charged with felony assault as a hate crime in the attack. He was released from prison in 2019 and was on lifetime parole after being convicted of fatally stabbing his mother in 2002.

Activists disappointed

Random violence is not limited to New York.

In San Francisco, where officials have promised to hold perpetrators accountable, activists in Chinatown said they were disappointed that the District Attorney's office had dropped most cases involving anti-Asian hate incidents.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has come under fire from some Asian American victims.

An Asian American man beaten with a bat two years ago in the city recently filed a lawsuit against Boudin, saying his office had systemically refused to uphold the rights of Asian American victims of racial violence. The victim said the DA's office never informed him of a lenient plea deal cut with his attackers or of the lack of a hate crime charge until after the fact.

Leanna Louie, leader of United Peace Corps, a neighborhood patrol group in San Francisco's Chinatown, said: "We also protested against the way he (Boudin) handled Mr. Vicha Ratanapakdee's case. Mr. Ratanapakdee was killed on the spot, and he (Boudin) made light of it. He said that guy (the suspect) was a teenager and he had a temper tantrum. We were furious that he would make such a statement."

Ratanapakdee, 84, a Thai American, died after he was pushed to the ground by a 19-year-old man in January last year. Video footage of the incident went viral.

Louie said her group helped police with 12 incidents involving anti-Asian attacks in Chinatown, but all the cases were dropped.

In Los Angeles, two high-profile attacks were carried out on the same day last month.

A homeless man attacked Sandra Shells, 70, a nurse at LA County-USC Medical Center, as she waited for a bus to go to work early on Jan 13.Shells, whose skull was fractured, later died in the hospital.

In the other incident, a homeless man fatally stabbed Brianna Kupfer, 24, a UCLA graduate student, as she worked alone at a furniture store.

A 59-year-old Chinese American resident of Orange County, California, who only wanted to give her name as Ping, said she is afraid to ride the subway.

She has a 160-km round-trip commute and used to take the subway to work, but instead of using public transportation, she now drives.

"I'm afraid of being hit or pushed on the subway. Even though driving to and from work takes me a total of three hours every day, I feel safer," she said.

Andy Bales, CEO and president of Union Rescue Mission in the Skid Row district of Los Angeles, told British newspaper The Independent: "Most often it's violence toward others who are homeless, and they suffer the brunt of it. But in LA, 70 percent of people devastated by homelessness are on the streets, and so this presents conditions where pedestrians on their way to work will meet people who are in different states of mental illness."

While New York has a "right to shelter" law requiring the city to provide emergency shelter to the homeless, Los Angeles does not.

Some 8,000 people live in the Skid Row neighborhood in the downtown area, perhaps the largest homeless encampment in the US, The Independent reported.

Evening assault

In Seattle, Emma Shengnan Wang was walking home at about 6:30 pm on Jan 31 when she suddenly found herself face down on the ground with blood pouring from an ear.

Police said Wantez Jamel Tulloss, 31, a homeless man with a 16-year violent criminal history, approached Wang from behind and swung a baseball bat at her with both hands, hitting her on the side of the head before fleeing. The attack was captured by a surveillance camera.

Tulloss was living at a housing facility for transients just over 150 meters from where Wang, an engineer for Amazon Web Services, was struck. After the attack, the suspect was arrested after going to buy a slice of pizza.

Casey McNerthney, of the King County Prosecutor's Office, told KOMO News: "The randomness, the viciousness of it. It's absolutely disturbing-that's why we rushfiled the case. This video footage is nauseating … but we have prosecutors who are doing everything they can to hold this person accountable."

Lia Zhu in San Francisco, Liu Yinmeng in Los Angeles and Linda Deng in Seattle contributed to this story.

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