By Peter Zhao
I was having a talk with my wife and my 2 kids earlier.
We were talking about racism and hate crimes.
My boys are still little, 3 and 7, but whether or not they understood what mommy and daddy said, we adults have to say what we adults have to say.
They will remember, children’s brains are like recording machines.
When my wife texted me that January afternoon of 2020, she told me she was called a “diseased Chinese bitch” by her attacker and she was in the ER getting stitches on her forehead. It was so unexpected as I was having a normal day working from the office, I immediately put aside my work and rushed home. This was around January of last year when the country was still business as usual, but the looming threat of the Covid19 Pandemic has already penetrated people’s consciousness.
Asians wearing face masks on the streets were singled out.
This was also around the time when the tit for tat tradewar and xenophobic rhetorics have already been retweeted and shared many times. The news of Chinese government cover ups echoed from social media to the streets. This concoction of fear, anxiety, and dirty politics gave rise to a new wave of hate based crimes that specifically targeted Asians. Presidential rhetorics like “Chinavirus” played a catalytic role to help spread this new wave of xenophobic anxiety by linking the Virus’ origin to those people who are also Americans but of Asian ancestry.
My wife’s attack took place outside of my son’s school during rush hour at school drop off time.
The attacker was also a mother of a student and she was road raging.
She thought my wife was an easy target when she came out of her car to scream at my wife at the Red Light. This was all because she couldn’t cut in front of my wife’s car.
While the assailant was striking my wife’s head with her phone, my wife was blinded from the pouring blood coming out of forehead. Many passersby were parents, but everyone stood there while this was going on and no one intervened or screamed for help. But after my wife called the police, some passersby offered assistance and said the attacker had a history of anger problems outside of the school.
My wife had eye witnesses, dash cam video with sounds, yet the cop paid very little attention to my wife who suffered from the hate attack. Instead of arresting the assailant and recognizing this was a hate crime, the police instead treated this attack as a fight and arrested the attacker as well as my wife. My wife was verbally attacked with hateful racist slurs, then physically assaulted that required stitches and endured concussion. Instead of healing the wounds we had to spend extra time and money to lawyer up and fight for her innocence. We didn’t go outside to look for trouble, but the trouble found us, and on top the corrupt system further hurt us.
Through social media, our incident got the attention of local community activists in Flushing.
We were introduced to community organizations like “AALDEF The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund” and Minh Kwon Center. These nonprofit organizations have a long history of helping the community through tough times. We were told we can tap into these organizations to find lawyers. But we were also told the most effective option is to reach out to the media and make this incident big. We were told to throw a rally and hopefully we can make the matter big enough and attract local elected officials. We were told to file a hate crime report. We called the Hate Crime hotline. We also filed a Hate Crime report at the official government website. But like casting a stone into the abyss, no one followed up with us and our case was forgotten.
At the time there was no NYPD Asian Hate Crime Task Force . My wife’s hate attack experience was before George Floyd, was before the hundred of thousands of Covid deaths in America, and at a time when these new waves of attacks were still in a mythical and debated stage. Anti-Asian Crimes and xenophobic sentiments aren’t just a recent phenomenon but we find this rooted in American civil rights history, remember 1871 Chinese Massacre and 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camp in WWII, and Vincent Chin are a few examples in history.
I am outspoken but my wife is private and reserved. Even if a reporter approached me, without my wife’s consent, I wouldn’t be able to talk about her ordeal until she, the victim, feels comfortable. After my wife made phone calls to these defense leagues and community centers, she ran into misunderstandings, rudeness, and poor follow ups. She was told at one point there aren’t enough criminal laws and we were told the attorneys available don’t handle this type of case. After many phone calls and circling emails, we found ourselves back at the drawing table. Later I learned these public defense funds and community associations aren’t always inadequately funded and under staffed.
During the time of crisis, my wife’s case was being brushed aside.
More and more we felt there was a desperation for media exposure, but not from us, but from those who wanted to help us. My wife and I couldn’t help but to feel our pain and anger have been secretly exploited for other people’s future expansions in local politics. We’ve long heard lip service from local elected officials on TV who talked about how every voice counts and how they represent the people. But it seems without holding a rally, our lives don’t matter.
Finally we found a criminal defense lawyer recommended by the NY BAR Association.
For some reason, this lawyer was afraid to address the hate crime nature of our case.
Due to Covid19 lockdown, our case was delayed for a year and eventually Queens DA dismissed the case.
But what about justice for our family? Well, we are free to pursue the matter in the Civil Court.
If you have ever been litigated against or if you have litigated someone. If you have ever sat through criminal defense trials and paid the very expensive hourly lawyers fees. You should know suing someone isn’t as easy as saying it.
There are identical stories that echoes through the tight knit communities like Chinatown about how a Chinese take out delivery man was robbed and beaten. The police would tell the delivery man, if you are not hurt, then we are leaving, but feel free to sue your attacker in court. Instead of helping the victim to file a report, the cops neglected their responsibility and took the easy way out by ignoring the real needs of the victim. Over time, this type of neglectful attitude felt by the community contributed to a general mistrust toward the police.
Even though, by end Summer of 2020, the grassroot Anti-Asian hate crime movement and #TheycantburnusAll have helped create the NYPD Asian Hate Crime Task Force. To many in the Asian community, this new task force is just another show aimed to calm the media.
However, those who volunteered in this lowly funded task force are Asian police officers who also have family members who are living in fear from the waves of Asian attacks. These Asian police officers desperately try to help bridge the gaps and bandage the wounds because they understand that too many victims only want to expose their hate attack experience on social media but they don’t want to report to the police due to mistrust.
I learned from my activist friends like Don Lee from Chinatown and corruption-fighting whistle-blower Asian police officer Sergeant Steve Lee from Flushing about ideas like a hotline that can help centralize the resources to help the community to report Anti-Asian Hate Crimes. From my wife’s experience I felt we do have the talents and resources, but they are scattered. Community legal teams are lowly funded and need better leadership. I think the idea of centralizing these resources by creating a hotline is a great idea, because many Asians in our community may still feel uncomfortable reporting crime to police because they don’t trust the police. Before we can restore the police and community relationship, I feel a hot line can help victims report hate crimes without calling the police directly. And most importantly an independent agency which forwards hate crimes reports to the police can accurately track the number of Hate crimes against Asians.
This weekend, we joined our friends, allies, and hundreds of people and we rallied against hate at Columbus Park in Chinatown New York.
The large and diverse crowd of Asians and non-Asians banded together to show support and fight against racism and hate. We chanted, Asian Lives Matters, Black Lives Matters, We are golden, we are worthy. Rapper McJin came on stage with his 8-year-old son to help fight back hate and remind the crowd that in New York City everyday is Lunar New Year. While we stood in solidarity, I could not help but to wonder to myself why is it people have to die and why do we always have to band together in emotional rallies in order to make the system finally hear us and make some changes. I wish one day the system can finally work for us.
There are grassroot movements coast to coast to help make the Asian communities in America feel safer. From blockwatches to train stop escorts, I see people of all colors and backgrounds banding together to make us feel we are not alone and people do care. I hope our elected officials can communicate more for practical solutions rather than big ideas and campaign promises. I hope the victims one day don’t have to feel like the only solution they have is to amplify their pain to the media in order to get the attention they deserve. Among the supporters fighting back against hate crimes there are also those who strongly feel Defunding the police is an important solution. In my opinion I feel there are places in the budget where we should defund the police such as in areas of legal protection for the cops, but for special units like the NYPD Asian Hate Crime Task Force, they need more funding. I hope our lawmakers can one day turn the NYPD Asian Hate Crime Task Force from a voluntary unit to a permanent special department.
From my own observation as an Asian New Yorker I feel we tend to complain among each other about how nothing works and nothing changes, but ourselves are still silent to the world outside of our community. Like Mc Jin said, it doesn’t matter if you have a social following of 70 people or 7000 people, every one of our voices count. I hope we all can continue to make our important dialogues and to share not just about our cultures and differences, but we need to talk about all the good, the bad, and the ugly. When we see someone being harassed or attacked we should speak out. When we see something wrong we should say something and do something about it.
There are knots that need to be untied and grudges need to be settled, we must keep on talking.
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