About 100 protesters gathered in Bliss Plaza in Sunnyside, on Saturday, March 6, to rally against the increase of violence and hate crimes toward Asian American Pacific Islanders.
The rally was organized by City Council candidates Julie Won and Steven Ragga, who are running for the City Council District 26 seat. Both candidates attended the Rise against Hate rally in downtown Manhattan last weekend. They agree that the rise in hate crimes on Asian-Americans impacts all communities in New York City.
“It’s not just downtown where the racism and xenophobia are cared about in the community. It’s not just downtown where racism and xenophobia are fought against in the community. So we want to bring it here, starting in Sunnyside,” Ragga said.
Hate crimes against Asian Americans have always existed, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of incidents has sharply increased in New York City and across the United States. There have been 28 coronavirus-related attacks against Asians in New York City since the beginning of the pandemic. The latest attack occurred on Mar. 2, when an Asian man was knocked to the ground and punched in an unprovoked attack on the Lower East Side.
Jesse Laymon, who is also looking to replace term-limited Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer in District 26, acknowledged that while he and the other candidates are in a race against each other, they wanted to stand united against hate. He called on white people to join the fight against racism and stand up against bigotry, even if they feel it doesn’t concern them.
“Bigotry is itself an epidemic disease that is constantly mutating with new variants, and what is targeting one community today will target another community tomorrow and targeted others years before that. This is all one disease, and we must fight it together, or we will not succeed against any of it,” Laymon said.
Father Julian Jagudilla, director of the Migrant Center at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, shared that Noel Quintana, the man who was slashed across the face with a box cutter on the subway in February, is not only a volunteer at the Migrant Center but also his friend. He said many Asian American and Pacific Islander community members are afraid to take public transportation to work. Still, he urged them not to allow fear to rule their daily lives.
“If we allow fear to dominate our lives, then the perpetrators have won. We are here to stand up against Asian hate,” Jagudilla said.
He also pointed out that the older generation might feel that they are voiceless because of language barriers. He reminded the AAPI community that they could not be intimidated as long as they stand together as one voice.
“Together, we have a voice, and we want to visit the ears of our perpetrators, law enforcers and elected officials to hear us out. Because we are here to stand a stand against Asian hate. The Asian American and Pacific Islander community should not tolerate being diminished or treated like we are invisible,” he stressed.
Sharon Lee, who served as acting Queens borough president after Melinda Katz was elected as Queens district attorney, opened by joking that she was not a candidate for City Council nor any other office. She reminded the crowd that hate crimes towards the Asian American community are nothing new and that most incidents go unreported.
“This is not just in the last couple of weeks. This is not just a year ago when I would walk around and wonder, I don’t know what’s going to kill me first, COVID or racism? This is not new; it is underreported,” Lee said before calling on the community to speak up and report hate crimes.
She also made it clear that anti-Asian racism was not an excuse for anti-Black racism in the AAPI community.
“We have a lot of work to do. So don’t get it twisted that we’re just the victims; there is a lot to do. And it’s on us as well,” Lee emphasized.
Van Bramer said that, as a gay man, he’s seen and experienced violence. He told the crowd that violence is used as an attempt to silence, intimidate and isolate but underlined that showing unity and solidarity is the best counter-argument.
“We will protect each other, and we will never ever allow anyone in our community to feel isolated, to be afraid, and to be alone. And we will never ever accept the notion that the hatred directed at the Asian community will allow anyone to feel powerless because there is nothing, nothing worse than being made to feel powerless. And that is not going to happen,” Van Bramer said.
Won said that she is concerned about her mother’s safety and calls her every morning to remind her to be careful when she takes the train or walks by herself at night.
“Why is it that in my very own city, I have to ask my mom if she is safe? And if she does not text me back in 15 minutes, I start to have anxiety worrying if my mom is safe,” she said.
Won made it clear that she’s not calling for more policing, and she doesn’t want to be part of a conversation that could lead to more racial profiling and incarceration of people of color. She wants to get to the root of why hatred and bigotry exist and believes that compassion and understanding are more effective.
“That’s why we are calling the way that we did today, for more community building, for mutual trust, for us to really stand in solidarity because it is not about one race attacking the other — but recognizing as a society as a whole about anti-Asian sentiment and scape-goating,” Won said.