Op-ed: Violence against Asian community is unacceptable and harmful to all of New York City

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Photo by Dean Moses

Imagine for a minute that you’re simply standing on a subway platform waiting for your train. Or maybe you’re running an errand, shopping bag in hand. Or you’ve just left your home for a walk. Then imagine being punched in the face, or violently pushed, or set on fire or slashed with a knife.

Now imagine that those things happened to you because of your race. Random strangers just walk up to you and attack you because they believe in some convoluted and ridiculous way that you’re responsible for the coronavirus. They tell you to go home – to a different country.

These aren’t fictional accounts, they’re not from some action movie. They’re real life. In our city. And they are increasing. And the targets are Asian New Yorkers, many of whom are age 50 or above. They may be you. 

Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old riding in a subway car, was slashed ear-to-ear in early February when he asked his attacker to stop kicking his bag. And only a few people stepped up to help Mr. Quintana, who was bleeding profusely. 

This is more than unacceptable. And if you think that these violent acts of hate are just about the targeted person or Asians, you are wrong. This violence affects us all. When one group is targeted, it places an indelible stain on our humanity.

That’s why our respective organizations have risen up to end this violence and hold our elected officials and our police accountable. We ask you to stand with us. 

Since early 2020, when COVID-19 locked down New York City, there have been approximately 500 reports of bias incidents and hate crimes directed at the Asian community, particularly vulnerable seniors. But we know that’s just a fraction since many of these incidents go unreported. That is a horrifying statistic. 

There is so much loss this year: the lives of people who died from a deadly virus and the livelihoods of those who have lost jobs and businesses. And there’s also the mental health toll that has affected so many as we continue to lockdown and remain socially distant. 

We ask our neighbors and friends of all communities to stand with us to eradicate hate. We ask our fellow New Yorkers to look out for each other. There are many Asian New Yorkers working on the frontlines, from combating the disease in hospitals to providing meals to delivering groceries. They are the people helping you get through this, one of the most difficult years in American history, but are being violently treated as outsiders in the communities they are sustaining. 

Now it’s time to condemn these attacks, pressure our lawmakers to address anti-Asian and anti-immigrant rhetoric and to punish those who attack our fellow New Yorkers. Remember, we are all in this together.

Here are some ways to help from the Asian American Federation:

  • Support victims by advocating for recovery services offered in Asian languages to help them heal from the trauma.
  • Help promote and practice ways to diffuse tense situations.
  • Call on our leaders to go beyond verbal expressions of solidarity and take meaningful actions to provide us with the resources to navigate COVID-19 and address the racism that is plaguing Asian New Yorkers.
  • Ask our leaders to demonstrate their dedication to eradicating hate and ensuring real safety by creating a system of support that allows those who are being targeted to seek help in different places and ways.
  • Urge leaders to invest in meaningful strategies to bring marginalized communities together to build and heal during and after COVID-19.

Beth Finkel is the State Director of AARP New York. Jo-Ann Yoo is the Executive Director of the Asian American Federation.