Asian New Yorkers are experiencing a surge in political power, but at a legislative agenda breakfast meeting Thursday the epidemic of anti-Asian harassment and violence overshadowed the political gains.
Speaking to activists and other elected officials attending the Asian American Federation virtual forum, Rep. Grace Meng, D-Queens, highlighted Saturday’s fatal attack on Michelle Go, an Asian American woman killed after being pushed onto subway tracks at Times Square and struck by an oncoming train.
Her alleged attacker, 61-year-old Simon Martial, was arraigned Wednesday on charges of 2nd-degree murder. So far, authorities have not determined if the attack was racially motivated. A judge has ordered a psychological evaluation.
“Even though Michelle's tragedy might not necessarily be prosecuted as a hate crime, it’s still something that evokes so much fear, already existing fear in so many in our community,” Meng told the participants. The Federation represents 70 Asian American nonprofits across the city and advocates for the needs of the community.
Even though Michelle's tragedy might not necessarily be prosecuted as a hate crime, it’s still something that evokes so much fear, already existing fear in so many in our community.
Saturday’s attack came against the backdrop of a continuing epidemic of anti-Asian violence and harassment. Nationwide, the group Stop AAPI Hate documented 10,370 acts of anti-Asian hate incidents since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 through September 2021. Of those, 1,336 occurred in New York City, the highest number of any city, according to the organization.
According to AAF’s own tally, over 2,600 anti-Asian hate incidents had occurred in New York City during that time period, “and we know that the majority of those have not been reported” to law enforcement, said Joo Han, the organization's deputy director.
Friday morning, a candlelight vigil is being held for Yao Pan Ma, 61, a former dim sum pastry chef who was killed after being attacked in Harlem while collecting cans. Police arrested Jarrod Powell, who was charged with attempted murder and two hate crime assault charges.
Senior Reporter Arun Venugopal discusses the recent anti-Asian attacks on WNYC:
At the same time that the community has been grappling with violence, it has seen its political representation expand. It includes five new members of the City Council: Linda Lee, Shahana Hanif, Shekar Krishnan, Julie Won and Sandra Ung. There were previously just two Asians on the Council, Margaret Chin and Peter Koo.
“Sadly, one of the unifying experiences of being Asian American in this country has been that at different points, different communities within our community have been the face of harassment and hate,” said state Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani [D-Astoria], who is a South Asian American.
Mamdani joined with other speakers at the event in calling for expanded language services for non-English speaking Asian New Yorkers.
“We see time and time again how the lack of those services will lead to the lack of safety for so many of our community members,” he said.
In addition to language access, AAF called for increased funding for anti-Asian violence prevention work. Han said it was also critical that “Asian leaders and community members who are doing this work are included in policy conversations.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered in Times Square for a vigil for the 40-year-old Go, who lived on the Upper West Side. She worked at the consulting firm Deloitte, in addition to serving for years as a volunteer at the New York Junior League.
The fatal attack, which police have described as random, occurred just days after Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams unveiled an initiative to increase safety within the subway system, in part by providing mental health support for people with mental illness.
“There’s a wide spectrum of what types of solutions that people think should be provided,” Meng said. “There’s anything from more cops and more law enforcement patrols to more jail time to more services, more mental health support.”
“There’s no easy solutions,” she said.