By Amy-Xiaoshi DePaola, AsAmNews Staff Writer
When Karlin Chan saw reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to step in.
“I actually started ‘patrolling’ with three friends and posted live video on social media platforms, which friends in Chinatown area saw and expressed interest in joining,” he said in an email to AsAmNews.
This sprouted the Chinatown Block Watch, which currently has 30 members and patrol three days a week in Manhattan’s Chinatown. If they get more members, Chan says, they would expand the patrol times.
“I joined the Chinatown Block Watch because the United States (and the world) is plagued with racism and divided by hate,” said member Dallas J. Short via email. “That, combined with the fueled frustration of people receiving misinformation during this pandemic, has led to senseless attacks and encounters of intimidation. Any time you want to make a difference, it starts with your community.”
Short, who has been around “since the beginning,” added, “I live here – this is my neighborhood and these are my neighbors – there is no reason I should not be involved.”
Chan said he pays for supplies, such as uniforms — their distinctive, bright-orange vests — out of pocket.
However, Chan says they are not a vigilante group. The purpose of Chinatown Block Watch is to “witness, document, and encourage victims if any to report an incident, and we are willing to testify in court.”
“I think our local 5th and 7th police precincts are doing a phenomenal job in keeping our neighborhood safe,” he added. Still, they “cannot be everywhere,” so the Chinatown Block Watch acts as extra “eyes on the street.”
Chan and the other volunteers are right to be concerned. The New York City Commission on Human Rights reported that out of 353 reports of COVID-19-related harassment and discrimination in February, 40% targeted Asians.
In New York city alone, 11 arrests have been made for suspected hate crimes against Asian Americans, AsAmNews recently reported.
Nationwide, there have been a recorded 1,983 incidents against Asian Americans, Stop AAPI Hate reported. Its site launched in March, where victims can report hate crimes.
In addition to patrolling, the members hand out informational posters about “government announcement of grants, forgivable loans, or anything that concerns our community because many are sheltered at home and may not understand English media on TV,” Chan said.
For instance, Bowery Boogie reported that the group had printed out notices to distribute, in both Chinese and English, after an incident involving two customers refusing to wear face masks in a Chinatown store.
Reading “no face mask, no entry,” they were given to various businesses during their rounds.
Meanwhile, community members seem to be grateful for the visual safety the Chinatown Block Watch provides.
“The #ChinatownBlockWatch is well received by the community because we are familiar faces in Chinatown, and it’s reassuring for them to see community people keeping an eye out for them,” Chan said.
“In the neighborhood, it feels safe because the police are on patrol, and also the neighborhood and community,” said Preeya Mayta, a Chinatown shopkeeper. “They keep an eye on it.”
Chan says that the group is “not all Chinese” and has grown “more diverse.”
“Chinatown has gone through and still is facing gentrification, but these new residents share the same desire to keep our community safe,” he said.
He hopes that the group will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic “because anti-Asian sentiment will likely linger for years to come,” he said.
People can email [email protected] if they wish to volunteer.
“We welcome men and women, and there is no requirement of minimum participation days — only when they can make it,” he said.
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