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In response to hate crimes, volunteers form ‘Asian Community Watch’ group in southern Brooklyn

inna vernikov with asian community watch group volunteers
Councilwomember Inna Vernikov is spearhead a new Asian Community Watch group within her district. New volunteers met with Vernikov and members of Shomrim, a Jewish watch group, to learn the ropes.
Inna Vernikov/Twitter

In response to an uptick in violence and crimes against Asian Americans, volunteers in southern Brooklyn are working to form an Asian Community Watch group, Councilmember Inna Vernikov announced earlier this week, aimed at protecting its neighbors and fighting back against hate.

The idea for the patrol stems from a similar project in the neighborhood that serves as a guard for the Jewish community called “Shomrim,” which translates to “watchers” in Hebrew. 

The role of the Asian Community Watch Group

“They act as a deterrent to crimes as well as assist when the crime takes place,” Vernikov told Brooklyn Paper. “So my idea was to do the same in the Asian community and model this group after Shomrim.”

Vernikov’s office is spearheading the formation and organization of the group, which will operate in the 48th Council District, covering areas within 61st Precinct patrol. The “watchers” will focus on areas with a high Asian population, such as Avenue U near 15th Street and Gravesend, according to Vernikov.

“We will be assisting with spreading the word, recruiting volunteers and I’ll also be allocating funding for this group to be able to obtain gear, equipment and anything they need to successfully operate,” she said.

To ensure a smooth transition, members from Shomrim met with the Asian Community Watch’s new volunteers on July 18 to share tips on how to perform efficiently. The new group will begin patrolling alongside the Jewish organization to get a feel for what it’s like to monitor the streets.

The Asian Community Watch group will be completely made up of volunteers — some of whom are retired firefighters and police officers, including Dewey Fong, a former deputy chief who spent 23 years with the New York City Police Department.

“I want to do what I can to give back to the community,” Fong said. “Not only the Asian community but also the community in general serviced by [Vernikov’s] office as well as other areas that the Asian community wants to extend into.”

woman holding sign at anti-asian hate rally asian community watch group
Vernikov’s district has seen an uptick in hate crimes this year, one of the major reasons she is working with the community to form the Asian Community Watch group. At least two racially-motivated attacks were reported in Bensonhurst, just outside Vernikov’s district, last year. File photo by Arthur de Gaeta

Fong hopes his experience within the city’s Police Department can play a key role in helping to get the local patrol group off the ground.

“I’m going to give them the benefit of my advice as far as what to do and what to look out for and maybe speak at a couple of their training sessions,” he said.

The volunteers will serve as the “eyes and ears of the police department,” according to Fong. They’ll wear uniforms, be equipped with radios and, in the event of a crime, the guards will immediately report to 61st Precinct officers.

Hate crimes in southern Brooklyn

Citywide, there have been 55 confirmed hate crimes against Asians year-to-date citywide, according to the NYPD Hate Crimes Dashboard. Fifteen of those — the most in any Brooklyn precinct — took place in the 61, within Vernikov’s district, according to the dashboard. Last spring, a 16-year-old girl was assaulted in Bensonhurst in what many believed to be a racially-motivated attack — just months before a man allegedly attacked three men who were speaking Cantonese on the street in the same neighborhood.

 “As a councilmember from a community who has been historically discriminated against and persecuted for our nationality, religion, and faith, this type of hate is both familiar and abhorrent to me,” Vernikov said. “It is unfortunate that our city — the best city in the world — has come to a point where law-abiding citizens don’t feel safe to use a train or patronize a restaurant. But I am excited to be involved in this new initiative, which will make our brothers and sisters from the Asian community feel safer and be safer.”

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