Protesters call attention to the rise in anti-Asian violence after six women of Asian descent were killed during attacks on three Atlanta-area spas, in New York, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times) Photograph:( The New York Times )
Even as reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have escalated in recent weeks, the video released by police officials Monday evening touched a fresh nerve. The sheer brazenness of the attack — combined with the seeming indifference of the bystanders — caused another wave of fear for many Asian Americans already worn down by a steady drumbeat of assaults
The security camera video was shocking in its brutality. A 65-year-old Filipino immigrant was walking down a street near Times Square when a man, in broad daylight, suddenly kicked her in the stomach.
She crumpled to the sidewalk. He kicked her once in the head. Then again. And again. He yelled an obscenity at her, according to a police official, and then said, “You don’t belong here.”
As the violent scene unfolded in Manhattan, three men watched from the lobby of a nearby luxury apartment building. When the woman struggled to stand up, one of the men, a security guard, closed the front door to the building.
Even as reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have escalated in recent weeks, the video released by police officials Monday evening touched a fresh nerve. The sheer brazenness of the attack — combined with the seeming indifference of the bystanders — caused another wave of fear for many Asian Americans already worn down by a steady drumbeat of assaults.
“This feels like an emergency happening in real time over weeks,” said Chris Kwok, a board member of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. “People are in a state of panic. Everybody is on edge.”
As the video went viral online, the attack provoked a torrent of condemnations from public officials and seemed to underscore the difficulty the government faces in curbing unprovoked assaults against Asian Americans.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Monday’s attack “absolutely disgusting and outrageous” and urged New Yorkers to intervene when they see assaults. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was “horrifying and repugnant” and ordered the state police to help investigate. Andrew Yang, who is seeking to become New York City’s first Asian American mayor, said he was heartbroken by the frequency of the attacks and advised Asian Americans to walk outside in pairs.
In Washington, President Joe Biden announced a slate of new initiatives Tuesday to combat anti-Asian prejudice, including publishing more frequent data on hate crime incidents and taking steps to encourage people to report them.
Video footage from other recent anti-Asian attacks has often shown bystanders frozen in place, appearing paralyzed by the violence they were witnessing. Some Asian Americans said the attack this week in Manhattan sent a chilling message: Even if assaulted on a busy street in broad daylight, they may be left to fend for themselves.
“When I look at the video, the inaction is what’s heartbreaking,” said Mon Yuck Yu, a health advocate for immigrants in New York. “If you are being attacked, the community will not be standing for you.”
The victim of Monday’s attack in Manhattan was identified as Vilma Kari, according to a police official. Kari’s daughter said her mother, who had immigrated to the United States from the Philippines decades ago, was overwhelmed and not ready to talk. She declined to comment further.
At Kari’s apartment Tuesday, a man who opened the door said Kari was still in the hospital recovering from a fractured pelvis. The man declined to give his name.
The police released a photo and video of a man wanted in the attack. He had not been arrested as of Tuesday evening.
Reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have risen sharply during the pandemic, often triggered by people falsely blaming Asian Americans for spreading the coronavirus, according to police departments across the country.
In a memo released to Justice Department employees Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the department would make hate crime prosecutions a priority and would provide additional help to local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to investigate bias crimes.
The problem is particularly pressing in New York City, which saw the sharpest increase last year in reported anti-Asian hate crimes of any major city, according to an analysis of police data by a center at the California State University, San Bernardino.
The New York Police Department has received 33 reports of anti-Asian hate crimes this year, already surpassing the 28 reported last year. One reason for the increase was that more victims appear to be reporting attacks than in the past, a senior police official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations.
Anti-Asian hate crimes have long been underreported because of factors that include language barriers and distrust of the police, according to community advocates.
Last week, the New York Police Department announced that it would begin deploying undercover officers to neighborhoods with large Asian populations in response to the rising attacks. All unprovoked attacks on people of Asian descent will now be referred for investigation as possible hate crimes, police officials said.
The Police Department said the victims of these attacks were predominantly middle-aged men and women who were alone on the streets or on public transit. Their assailants tended to be homeless and have a history of prior arrests and behavioral or emotional difficulties, the police said.
Across the country, most of the anti-Asian attacks documented over the past year took place inside stores or on public streets, and bystanders rarely intervened, according to Cynthia Choi, the co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks incidents of violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
In another video that went viral this week, a man was beaten and choked on a subway train in Brooklyn in what appeared initially to be another anti-Asian hate crime. The video, posted on social media, showed fellow riders shouting at the attacker to stop without stepping into the fight.
On Tuesday, however, a law enforcement official said that police now believe the victim was Hispanic and the violence may have started when he called his attacker, who was Black, a racial slur.
Police were also investigating another incident Monday night as a possible hate crime. In that case, an Asian woman was waiting in a subway station in Manhattan and noticed that someone had set her backpack on fire.
At a news conference Tuesday, de Blasio urged people to call police immediately if they witnessed an attack and to “shout out what’s happening” to disrupt the violence. “Even just that act of drawing attention and not just letting it go on is powerful,” he said.
In some instances, bystanders who tried to stop attacks have been injured or worse. Last month, an Asian man was stabbed to death in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, after he tried to stop the attempted robbery of another Asian man, the authorities said.
In another incident last week, a bystander tried to step in when a 26-year-old homeless man threatened an older Asian couple in Gravesend, Brooklyn. The homeless man punched the bystander and spit at him, calling him an anti-Chinese racial slur, according to prosecutors. The assault has been charged as a hate crime.
The attack Monday took place in front of 360 W. 43rd St., a luxury apartment building in Manhattan owned by the Brodsky Organization. The company said in a statement that the building employees who witnessed the attack have been suspended pending an investigation.
In a lengthy email to residents of Brodsky buildings that was obtained by The New York Times, the company wrote: “Like so many, we were disturbed when watching the video and witnessing what appears to be a lack of action and empathy on the part of the lobby staff and delivery person in the video.”
Kyle Bragg, the president of 32BJ SEIU, the union representing staff members, issued a statement saying the door staff immediately called for help, urging the public “to avoid a rush to judgment” until the investigation had concluded.
On Tuesday afternoon, a police van parked outside the building on West 43rd Street played a video of the assault on a loop on screens facing the entryway. A reward poster with photos of the man sought by the police was wrapped around a no-parking sign at the curb.
Residents of the building expressed disappointment that the staff in the lobby did not do more to help the victim of the assault.
“I’m not asking them to fight,” said Devin Setyawan, who works in finance and recently moved into the building. “But when you see someone on the ground who clearly needs help, as a human, your instinct isn’t to close the door.”