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Asian Americans protest “unequal justice” of Manhattan DA

By Ti-Hua Chang

On Tuesday, some 200 Chinatown residents and activists demonstrated outside the offices of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.  They protested his prosecution of John and Maximillian (Max) Ong for assault. The demonstrators say the Ong brothers were set upon by a group of five much larger White and Black men in their twenties. John Ong got a sword to defend his brother Max, who told AsAmNews that the group of men had beaten him unconscious.   The five young men, say the Ong brothers, made repeated racist slurs yet were never charged with a hate crime or assault. DA Bragg is the leading voice for strengthening the hate crimes laws in New York State.

Demonstration organizer once early Bragg supporter

The demonstration’s organizer, activist Don Lee, was the first Asian American community leader to back Alvin Bragg’s candidacy to be Manhattan District Attorney.  Lee told AsAmNews that he was “deeply disappointed” in DA Bragg calling on him “not to be racist.”    Lee added, “The way they turned the attackers into victims… the criminal justice system completely failed.  This is the type of stuff we read about in the history of days long ago. That culture has never changed. “

Demonstrators claim unequal prosecution

Demonstrator Susan Lee recalled a Bodega owner who killed a thief and had charges against him dismissed; she wondered why this case was different. “Why can’t the same be done to the brothers here? If you see the video from beginning to end (security cam video of the attack) it’s an act of self-defense.”

About 200 protesters picket the offices of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg
Photo by Ti-Hua Chang

Brawl occurred during height of the pandemic

This confrontation occurred at 2:45 am in New York City’s Chinatown on October 10, 2020.  This was during the height of the pandemic. Chinatown was on lockdown, Asians were being blamed and attacked, even killed for COVID, stores had windows smashed, and wooden vendor carts in Chinatown had been set on fire.   The five young men were urinating on the wall of the Ong’s apartment building in Chinatown, which is also their home with their 70-year-old mother, Iris. Max Ong says he called 911, but the police did not respond to his call. Police did respond 11 minutes later after the fighting started even though there is a police station two and a half blocks away.

When Max and John Ong went out to tell the five young men to stop urinating on the wall, an argument ensued. The video appears to show one of the five young men pushed John Ong. Max Ong says that same man said, “Get my backpack; I want to shank (slang for stab) this ch*nk.”  Max acknowledges he pushed that man away; afraid he was about to be stabbed. Four of the five men then beat the Ong brothers.  Max Ong admits that, at one point during the melee, he used a small key chain weapon in self-defense.

Five-foot four-inch 105-pound John Ong vs six-foot tall, bigger, younger assailants

John Ong is five feet four inches tall and weighs 105 pounds.  The young male attackers were all much larger and some 20 years younger than the then 40-year-old John Ong and 37-year-old Max Ong.  After seeing his younger brother Max knocked to the ground and repeatedly pummeled, John went upstairs to get a sword to defend him.  When John came back the group of five men had walked away. But then the video appears to show two men of that group started to come back toward John Ong. That’s when he allegedly slashed one young man with a sword. The same young man who threatened to stab Max.

Max Ong (right) is seen here with Don Lee
Photo by Ti-Hua Chang

Attorney Julia Kuan represents Max Ong.  “The NYPD and Manhattan DA have video proof that this group of males committed a gang assault and Asian hate crime, yet they refuse to prosecute them…The message is clear: Asian Americans’ lives and bodies are not worth protecting,” he said to AsAmNews.

Speaking to AsAmNews, Max Ong said that he has permanent injuries to his spine and cannot eat a full meal without severe pain in his back. The man who his brother is accused of slashing with a sword also has permanent injuries to his arm.  When AsAmNews asked Max Ong if he would agree to both him and his brother and the five young men being prosecuted for assault, he responded, “Yes, I would feel that’s fair.”  But what has happened, said Max Ong, was “unequal justice that is an injustice.”

Prosecution based on NY self-defense law

Some legal analysts believe the Manhattan District Attorney’s office based its motions on Max and John  Ong on NY statute 35.15(2) on self-defense. Prosecutors felt that Max Ong acted in concert with John Ong to use deadly physical force when it was not warranted. To prosecutors, it appears the Ongs were not in imminent danger of serious injury when John Ong swung his sword. Prosecutors seem to believe he could have returned to his building and waited for police to arrive. 

Activist says assailants came back and then John Ong swung the sword

Activist Don Lee raises his fist in solidarity with the demonstrators
Photo by Ti-Hua Chang

But activist Don Lee believes the security camera video shows that John Ong got the sword after his brother Max had been knocked unconscious and was still in danger. Then, when John Ong came back downstairs and was outside with the sword in his hand, two of the five men came back menacingly toward him. John Ong, who is five feet four inches tall and weighs 105 pounds, then cuts the six-foot-tall, much heavier, twenty-year-younger man.

A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Bragg’s office defended the decision to AsAmNews.

“Maximillian Ong chose to plead guilty before a judge to assault in the second degree. His brother similarly pleaded guilty to Assault in the Second Degree, with the understanding that he would receive a prison sentence…We file charges based on the evidence and the facts, and an experienced team of prosecutors conducted a thorough investigation into all aspects of this case.” 

Source: Bragg said he reduced prison time for John Ong from 15 years to 2.5 years

A source tells AsAmNews that a community activist cornered DA Bragg at an Asian American event and asked him why he had not given more consideration to the hate crime aspect in the Ong brothers case.  Bragg, says the source, insisted he had, noting sword wielder John Ong was originally charged with second degree attempted murder, so if found guilty, he could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison. Bragg allegedly noted John Ong was instead offered a plea deal of admitting to assault and serving just two and a half years in prison.  John Ong will be sentenced on April 23rd.  His brother, Max Ong, received a plea deal of probation and no jail time.

Don Lee plans to file a class action lawsuit against New York City on behalf of the Ong brothers and other Asian Americans who, he says, have been victimized by the different standard for Asians of the justice system.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

11 COMMENTS

  1. The brothers were right to defend theirselves and property. The gang of 5 could’ve left when brother called police, but chose to spit and verbally attack, which eventually led to physical attack. Crazy the Brothers are perpetrators and the attackers victims.

  2. I’m upset about this. How was it possible for Alvin Bragg’s office to charge the five gentlemen nothing? You witness one threatening to kill another, two peeing on a structure, the use of racist epithets, and finally, beatings. with every moment being recorded on video. Prosecutors suggested John should have returned inside the structure and bided his time until the cops could arrive. But when his brother Max had called them earlier, they never appeared to pick up. I’m urging Mr. Bragg to act morally and bring charges against the five people involved in the incidents. Since the brothers are the victims, we want them to receive justice.

  3. This doesn’t make me pleased. How were charges against the five individuals unsuccessfully brought? The video encounters proof of someone making a death threat, followed by these individuals physically abusing the two brothers. I urge the office of Mr. Bragg to charge them.

  4. Don Lee never met a camera he didn’t like. Look how he gets himself front and center in 2 of these photos. He is a joke as a community leader. Always uses these things to promote himself, not the victims. He made so many false promises to the workers at Jing Fong saying he had connections to save their jobs, when in fact he had nothing and did nothing. So many know that story. I am sure he is also doing the same with the Ong family. They should find someone better than him who can really fight for the justice they deserve.

    • I’ve never had the chance of meeting Don Lee personally, but as a Chinese American living and working in the United States, I deeply appreciate his role as a voice for many of us who may not have the platform to speak out. It’s important to recognize that different cultures have varying approaches to advocacy, and Don Lee’s impactful yet respectful manner is commendable. While I cherish the opportunities this country offers, it’s undeniable that racism persists, making representation all the more vital.

      Regarding the notion of winning every battle, it’s a poignant reminder that advocacy isn’t about triumphing in every instance but rather about standing up for what’s right. Let’s continue supporting voices like Don Lee’s that strive to create positive change. Have a wonderful day!”

      Don Lee– if you see this, please know that you’ve touched many of us with your impact. I may not be able to thank you personally, but know that I appreciate you. Chinatown ESPECIALLY, appreciates you.

  5. This is outrageous and they wonder why NYC is getting worse and worse. Releasing all the criminals they deem “not serious enough”. But punish the ones defending their property and themselves. Here’s what’s next—- let the squatters live in your home and keep it.

    Thank you Don and please fight hard for the brothers. This is wrong in so many levels. So many angles.

  6. Don Lee is a representative of our Asian communities, standing up for what he believes is right and just. He speaks truthfully about the Ong family’s right to defend themselves, refusing to let the perpetrators of gang assaults escape accountability for their violence.

  7. NYC is run by corrupt and incompetent democrats and libetarts…They take the laws into their own hand…look what they are trying to do to president Trump. This is a banana republic, not America that I know! Time to vote these incompetent idiots out of the office and save this country!

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