HomeCommunityHarlem remembers Yao Pan Ma, killed while collecting cans

Harlem remembers Yao Pan Ma, killed while collecting cans

By Ti-Hua Chang, AsAmNews Contributor

Within feet of where Yao Pan Ma was stomped into a coma that lasted eight months, some 50 people held a vigil in East Harlem for the 61-year-old immigrant. He died of his injuries December 31st. A dozen elected officials and activists ranging from the Upper Manhattan Asian American Alliance to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network stood in freezing temperatures behind posters of Mr. Ma, white candles, and roses. No one representing New York City Mayor Eric Adams attended. NYPD investigators attended but did not speak.  

The night of April 23rd, Mr. Ma was culling through garbage to retrieve cans and bottles for the five-cent deposit. After an investigation that included viewing surveillance video, police concluded 49-year-old Jarrod Powell came from behind, knocked down Ma then repeatedly stomped on his head in an unprovoked attack.  Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg today declared support for Mr. Ma, but said he could not comment if he would increase the charges against Powell from attempted murder and hate crime assault to murder.

All the elected officials in attendance, from New York Attorney General Letitia James to New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, declared support for unity and against hatred, but few offered specific programs. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) did say that more data collection was required to prove what seems anecdotally obvious — that anti-Asian hatred nationally has increased.

Michelle Go, a 40-year-old Asian American woman was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train at Times Square and died (Mayor Adams attended her vigil Wednesday night along with 300 others).  In New York City the police reported that hate crime increased 361% by December 2021. And not just hate crimes.  In the last week in the Bronx, a 19-year-old Latina, Krystal Bayron-Nieves, was shot to death in a robbery of a Burger King, and an 11-month-old baby was shot in the face by a stray bullet.  

Today State Senator John Liu said, “There’s no one magic solution that’s going to get us out of this crisis, everything has to be done.  Liu cited education about Asian American history, mental health services, transitional housing, and justice,  “… so people can’t think they can take an Asian life so cheaply and have no consequences.”

Liu (and Assemblyman Ron Kim) has proposed a bill requiring Asian American history to be taught in schools. Only New Jersey and Illinois require Asian American history to be taught in public schools.  Funding for improving homeless outreach, shelters, and affordable housing is in the Build Back Better Act, but this legislation is tied up in the US Senate, according to Representatives Meng and Adriano Espaillat (D-NY). 

Photo by Ti-Hua Chang

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou said, “I have been to too many vigils.”  She added, “I am tired of begging for scraps,” referring to funding of programs for Asian Americans. (There are 1.1 million Asian Americans and Asians in New York City, which is fifteen percent of the city’s population. But Asians receive roughly two to three percent of government funding).

Yao Pan Ma emigrated to New York October 2018. A dim sum chef in China, he worked as kitchen help here. The restaurant where he worked shut down during the pandemic and Ma was forced to collect cans and bottles to survive because he was ineligible for unemployment. His wife, Baozhen Chen, who was laid off as a home care attendant, is also one of the many people searching through plastic garbage bags looking for cans and bottles.  Usually elderly and always people of color, they are a common sight in New York City and nearly always ignored by those who pass by.

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