As violent attacks against the Asian American community continue to rise in New York City — including the recent assault of a Filipina nurse from Queens — local officials and community leaders are calling for immediate resources to combat anti-Asian hate crimes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Queens lawmakers such as Congresswoman Grace Meng, state Senator John Liu and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined Asian American Federation (AAF) officials at an emergency press conference held on Thursday, Aug. 19, at 1 Centre St. in Manhattan, to denounce the bigotry and bias against the Asian community.
For over a year now, according to Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of AAF, Asian Americans have been living in constant fear of being assaulted on their way to the grocery store, to the office, to school and even just walking down the street.
“I have seen and heard first-hand from friends, colleagues and families the fear of being attacked, and the trauma in those long after they have been assaulted,” Yoo said. “Our community is desperately looking for help to fight against this wave of hate. We need to be proactive rather than reactive, which includes providing victims with a strong support system.”
The NYPD’s July 2021 report found a 363 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Asian New Yorkers, and a national report from Stop AAPI Hate this week found New York to be the state with the second-highest number of hate incident reports involving the Asian community.
The report found that physical assaults are on the rise at 16.6 percent in 2021 in comparison to 10.8 percent in 2020. Last week there were three attacks, including one on Potri Ranka Manis, a Filipina nurse and frontline health care worker who was assaulted on the subway while handing out face masks to an unmasked couple with a child on the E train. Just weeks ago, Minerva Chin, a nonprofit leader, was attacked in Chinatown.
Manis, who has been distributing face masks to help stop the spread of COVID, spoke about the Aug. 10 assault at AAF’s press conference.
“The man took the mask and threw it away, and then he said, ‘Mind your own business, chink … get out of this train Chinese and go back to your country,’” Manis said. “The woman then stood up and started punching my head as I was trying to cover my face.”
After sharing her story, Manis had emphasized that COVID-19 is a public health issue that needs to be taken seriously, as it has caused immense suffering and devastation, mainly to peoples’ mental health, she said.
“We need to condemn the heinous activity that is not supposed to happen, especially in the face of a pandemic. COVID-19 is an enemy and because of it, there is so much anger, frustration and so much desperation,” Manis said. “What happened to me in the subway, it’s a big public health issue. I’ve been working as a public health nurse and frontliner that goes beyond my duty hours, so we can practice safety against the virus.”
Meng, who introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that was signed into law by President Biden earlier this year, called Manis an “unsung frontline worker” and commended her for speaking up despite the “abhorrent” incident.
“Those who attacked her must be held accountable. While my COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is law, it is imperative that everyone play a role in combating anti-Asian hate and violence,” said Meng, who reiterated her firm commitment to ensuring the federal government is addressing such hate and violence.
According to Liu, the continuing onslaught of anti-Asian hate and attacks requires vigilance to underscore and denounce the violence and bigotry that has devastated the community along with COVID.
“Neither the passage of time nor the overwhelming numbers of incidents will dull the shock and outrage experienced by our community. We are thankful to the victims who not only reported their attacks but are outspoken about their ordeals, and to the Asian American Federation for their continued efforts,” Liu said.
Richards also hailed Manis as a Queens health care hero who had taken it upon herself to help protect her city from COVID-19 by passing out free face masks to subway riders.
“She should have been applauded by everyone who walked past her, not become a target of vile anti-Asian hatred in the very city she is trying to keep safe,” Richards said. “This pandemic of prejudice must not be allowed to continue. Queens stands in solidarity with her and all survivors of anti-Asian hate, and I call on all our families to become active allies in this fight against bigotry and bias.”
As Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is set to become New York state’s first female governor following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, she cited the need for more funding saying it will “take all of us — the city, state and federal governments as well as vital community partners — to fight anti-Asian hate crimes and secure a brighter, safer future for the Asian American community in New York state.”
New York State Attorney General Letitia James said the continued acts of hate and violence against the Asian American community is “unacceptable and antithetical” to everything they represent.
“No individual should be treated any differently or have to live in fear because of who they are, what they look like or where they come from, period. Hate will never be tolerated in our state, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that New Yorkers are safe and protected in their communities,” James said. “My office will continue to take action against hate and discrimination of any kind, and I thank the Asian American Federation for their shared commitment in this effort.”
James is encouraging everyone to remain vigilant and to report any discriminatory acts to her office at 800-771-7755.