Demonstrators rally against anti-Asian violence in Flushing, Queens on March 27. Photos by Seiji Yamashita.
More than 60 groups, including one in Flushing, Queens, gathered around the country Saturday to protest anti-Asian violence. Despite the rising number of protests, police in New York City reported five more incidents of violence against Asians that occurred the previous week.
The rallies across the United States on Saturday were part of a continuation of a planned National Day of Action on March 26, organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition, known as ANSWER. The national organization was founded after 9/11.
“When Asian-Americans first came here in the nineteenth century to build up our nation, they were always exploited. They were always blamed. There was always this kind of stereotype associated with them,” said Zachariah Lee Whitfield, a protestor at the rally. “I’m here today to stand in solidarity with all the other Asian-Americans.”
After the March 16 mass shooting when eight people were killed in Atlanta-area spas, many protests took place to draw attention to the spike in anti-Asian violence. But the incidents continue. Three days after the tragedy in Atlanta, a 68-year old Sri Lankan man was punched in the head while riding the subway in New York City. The attacker yelled racial slurs at him. On March 20, a 66-year-old Asian man was also punched, this time in the face, on the Lower East Side. A day later, according to the police, three more attacks were recorded: a Chinese-American was hit twice in the face after she finished attending an anti-Asian hate protest in Union Square with her 7-year-old daughter; a 41-year-old Asian woman was thrown to the ground in Midtown, and a 54-year-old Asian woman was hit in the face with a metal pipe by a stranger while walking on the Lower East Side.
Three attackers have been arrested and two are still under investigation. As of Monday evening, police did not respond to a request for an update on the cases.
While the investigations were still ongoing, three more attacks happened in the past week. According to the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, a suspect used anti-Asian slurs at a woman on a train in Queens on March 23. He smashed her phone when she started recording him, the NYPD said on Twitter. Three days later, in Midtown, a man shouted anti-Asian slurs at a 65-year-old Asian woman and waved an unknown object toward her. About 24 hours later, an Asian woman was struck by a male who made anti-Asian statements in a Midtown subway station. Protestors cited the spike in crimes.
“Thousands of people are taking to the streets to unite today,” said Rachel Hu during the rally, the lead speaker and an organizer from ANSWER Coalition. “And they are here for the same reasons as we are. We want to say no to the anti-Asian virus. We want to join the historic struggles that our community, Asian-American people, have already been a part of.”
Among the speakers who called out for an end to anti-Asian hate during the demonstration was Nicole Henriquez, who has lived in Queens for over 20 years. She spoke during the rally to call for justice for her cousin, Christian Hall, a 19-year-old Chinese American, who was killed by Pennsylvania state police on December 30, 2020. According to a news report, Hall was reportedly said to be experiencing a mental health crisis and was presumably intending to end his life on an I-80 overpass when the police were called to help him.
“But instead, they killed him,” said Henriquez during the rally. “They shot him seven times.”
Pennsylvania state police later claimed in a statement that they “observed Hall to be in possession of a firearm.” However, advocates and Hall’s family said that according to a video captured by a witness, the police fatally shot him even though his hands were raised.
“If you’ve seen the video, you’ve seen his hands up,” said Henriquez.
Saturday’s rally also raised another issue: most of the anti-Asian incidents appear to have an anti-Chinese bent, many demonstrators said. Protestors and speakers pointed out, over and over, that Chinese immigrants to this country have rights as Americans too.
“My parents are from Shanghai, China, but they’ve spent more than 55 years of their lives in New York City. They are American,” Judi Cheng, a New York native and one of the organizers of the coalition told NY City Lens. “They are also Chinese.”
Cheng and other demonstrators blame former President Donald Trump and others like him for the rise in anti-Chinese sentiment. “There are all kinds of lies and propaganda that have been going around especially in the last year, since the pandemic started,” said Cheng. “The reason why you see so much violence now is because of politicians like Donald Trump calling it the ‘China Virus’ and giving the impression that Chinese people are dirty, that we’ve spread the virus.”
Some others at the rally believed that the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment and the surge in anti-Asian violence might be interrelated, but regardlessly, some demonstrators said, systemic racism hurts the community as a whole.
“I think there’s anti-Asia propaganda,” said Christine Yamamoto, a Japanese-American who attended the rally, holding a sign with the names of the victims of Asian-American violence. “None of us are identified properly. People just have made assumptions that if you’re Asian, you’re from China, and that’s unfair, that’s unfair to Chinese folks and it’s unfair to those of us who are not.”
“Hate crimes against Asian-Americans really need to end. It’s too scary to live here,” she said. “No one should have to live in fear.”