A slew of elected officials and prominent community leaders, members of the AAPI community, and their allies gathered for a rally and ensuing march outside Flushing Town Hall on May 2 to support the Asian American community.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the AAPI community has been the victim of 3,800 reported anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide. New York City has seen a sharp increase in hate crimes of 223 percent from the same time last year.
Just over a week ago, Yao Pan Ma, a Chinese immigrant, was so viciously beaten while collecting cans in Manhattan that he now is in a coma and fighting for his life.
On the second day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards sent a strong message from the world’s borough that Queens will not be complicit or sit on the sidelines as neighbors face violence or injustice, no matter their culture or sexuality.
Addressing the crowd of about 1,000, Richards said he would not allow racists to win the war against humanity and urged everyone to continue to speak out against hate and protect those who are afraid for their lives.
“As I look out into this crowd, I see the best in us,” said Richards, invoking late NYC Mayor David Dinkins, who described New York City as a gorgeous mosaic. “Because here in Queens County, we celebrate our diversity. In Queens, we understand that our diversity is our strength. We understand that there’s no division where there is togetherness. So today, we show the world that. You all here are showing the world, just that you belong here. We belong here. This is our city. This is our borough.”
Attorney General Letitia James called the increase in hate crimes disturbing and that society should not allow this to persist.
“We will not allow this to be our future because we are one. And we stand with the Asian community today against hate. None of us should live in fear for our lives because of who we are, what we look like, and where we come from,” James said. “We are a city built on the values of diversity and inclusion and acceptance and love, and that all of us are part of one human family.”
James stressed and said that her office would use the “full force of the law” against anyone who commits a hate crime.
Rev. Al Sharpton emphasized that hate is wrong, no matter who the victim is, and called on leaders to speak up.
“We don’t need to send a message. We need to come and bring the message. When Blacks attack Asians, Black leaders need to stand up. When whites attack others, whites need to stand up,” Sharpton said. “I have come to tell you that we are not going to stand by and allow hate between one another. You can’t fight hate against one without fighting hate against all.”
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, wearing a #StopAsianHate mask, promised that he would wear the mask until hate against Asians was wiped out, drawing cheers from the crowd. He had stern words for those who propagate Asian hate.
“You are not New Yorkers. You are not Americans. And under the new law we passed, we will prosecute you and give you the sentence you deserve,” the Senate majority leader said.
Unlike his preceding speakers, who greeted with cheers from the crowd, Mayor de Blasio’s reception was more subdued, drawing some boos.
He reminded everyone that New York City is a great place because of the contributions Asian Americans have made to the city.
“So anyone who hates Asian Americans hates New York City, too; hates America, too. You won’t be accepted in New York City again. Hey, get the hell out here. You don’t belong in New York City,” the mayor said before promising that perpetrators who commit hate crimes would be fully prosecuted.
State Senator John Liu was impressed with the crowd size assembled outside Flushing Town Hall, describing it as the biggest gathering he has seen in Flushing.
Exasperated, he asked, how anyone could beat another human being so viciously. He said that the Asian Americans weren’t subhumans, but mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and Americans.
He also said that bigotry and discrimination were the results of ignorance and that, besides prosecution, education had to be part of the solution combating hate crimes.
“It’s not just about hate crimes and prosecution and police. It is also about education. Because we can prosecute all the people that we want, and we can stop hate crimes from their fear, but we need to stop hate crimes out of people’s love. That is the long-term solution. Hate, bigotry and discrimination are the result of ignorance, is a result of not understanding. It’s a result of not seeing us as human beings,” Liu said. “In order to counter that, we need to teach people about what we have done in this country. New York would not be what it is today if it hadn’t been for Asian Americans. America would not be what it is today if it hadn’t been for Asian Americans. Everybody needs to understand what Asian Americans have done.”
After a heap of speeches, Congresswoman Grace Meng wrapped up the rally before the march.
Meng, who introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which the Senate passed on April 22 with the support of Senators Schumer and Hirono, thanked those who have supported the AAPI community for the last year. But she also reminded the Asian American community that it has to support other communities faced with racism.
“And if we don’t understand their issues, if we’re not sure exactly what’s going on, it’s our job to understand and to mutually support each other. So the next time another community is hurting, and you can call me. We will be there for you,” Meng said.
Elected officials and community leaders and numerous Asian American groups carrying banners — many members proudly waving American flags — started the 1.3-mile march at Flushing Town Hall. The route took demonstrators past the bakery where an Asian American woman was assaulted and viciously shoved to the ground in February.