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UPDATE: Hate Crime Task Force to assist in investigation of grandma set on fire in NY. #TheyCantBurnUsAll Rally Held

Photo from William Lex Ham via Facebook

By Ross Killion, AsAmNews Contributor

(Editor Note:This post originally published 8/16 was updated the morning of 8/17 with new information about the investigation. )

The New York Police Department Hate Crime Task Force is joining the investigation of two unidentified men who set an 89-year old Asian grandma on fire last month.

ABC7’s Cefaan Kim told AsAmNews while the task force has joined the investigation, the case has yet to be officially declared a hate crime.

That word comes as over two hundred people gathered for an Asian Unity March in Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Saturday. Like the rally held two weeks prior, this rally was organized by rapper China Mac and actor William Lex Ham in response to a July 17 attack on an 89-year-old Chinese American woman where two men approached her and set her on fire.

Starting around 2pm, about a dozen or so organizers showed up to help set up a voter registration booth. Voter registration pamphlets in a variety of Asian languages were provided to park-goers. Others helped set up speakers and recruit volunteers to serve as protest marshalls.

Organizers urged people to register to vote and to fill out the census at the They Can’t Burn Us All rally

The rally began with a series of passionate speeches. Ham reminded the audience, “Asians are the fastest growing group in America but the least likely to vote and are the least engaged. We must register to vote and fill out the census.”

He continued, “Although Asian American communities are incredibly diverse, the way we are treated in our country is generally the same. How many non-Chinese are called ch*nk? How many non-Koreans are called g*ok? We will get nothing unless we unite and fight together. This is the rising of our collective Asian American voice.”

VIDEO: China Mac Leads New York march against hate

Other speakers included the New York City Committee of Human Right’s Deputy Commissioner Franck Joseph, a representative from WomanKind, a nonprofit that works with survivors of gender-based violence, and China Mac who related an experience he had in juvenile hall where he was relentlessly bullied for being Asian. When he tried to seek help from the authorities, they told him the only way to gain respect was to fight back.

Marchers stop in Chinatown during the They Can’t Burn Us All rally

After an hour, the crowd began marching, first through the park and then onto the streets towards Manhattan Chinatown. China Mac and Ham led the march with chants including, “All for one, one for all”, “When grandmas get attacked, we stand up, we fight back”, “”When Asians get attacked, we stand up, we fight back”, “Get to the street and f&ck the police.” and “De Blasio f&ck you”.

Bakery owner Patrick Mock addresses the crowd at the They Can't Burn Us All rally
Bakery owner Patrick Mock addresses the crowd at the They Can’t Burn Us All rally

Upon reaching Chinatown, the crowd gathered around 46 Mott Bakery. Bakery owner Patrick Mock stood outside his bakery, expressed his gratitude for the marchers and shouted, “Show me what community looks like”, to which the crowd responded “this is what community looks like”. A viral video from August 11 showed New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio turning his back on Patrick Mock, who was trying to explain the challenges Chinatown businesses faced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They Can't Burn Us All rally counters model minority myth
They Can’t Burn Us All rally counters model minority myth

The march continued on, concluding at the 7th Precinct of the New York City Police Department where the Hate Crimes Task Force office is located. Ham told the crowd, “When the grandma went to the police station after her attack, the officers told her to go home and call 911. That is a grave violation.”

Addressing both the demonstrators and the dozen or so police standing outside, China Mac emphasized how he didn’t want to disrespect individual officers but wanted the NYPD to take hate crimes against Asian Americans as seriously as they do for other groups.

Sunny Choi, an NYC-based actor and writer, performed spoken word poetry that highlighted Asian American experiences. Following a number of other speeches, Ham took the mic again and informed everyone that investigators had upgraded the incident involving the grandma to a hate crime. The crowd cheered with enthusiasm as it reaffirmed the importance of activism and not staying silent.

However, AsAmNews contacted the NYPD and a spokesperson said the incident had not yet been elevated to a hate crime. However, we’ve since learned the hate crime task force is now assisting in this investigation

Just before the rally ended around 6, organizers reminded everyone of upcoming events including a Black Lives Matters march in Washington D.C. in late August and Asian Unity rallies in Philadelphia and California scheduled for September. Just like the previous rally, the entire event was peaceful and no altercations with the police occurred.

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