‘Without the help from city leaders in securing the $10 million in new initiative funding, we are stuck in this reality—a status quo where, every day, Asian New Yorkers are afraid to go to the park, to work, to the grocery store
“F–cking Chinese people!” That’s what a 57-year-old Asian woman and her grandchildren heard last week when they were accosted by a man in Tribeca. “You f–cking Chinese people,” was yelled at a 23-year-old woman that same day down the street, as her assaulter kicked her in the leg before attempting to pull a knife. These are only two of the latest traumatizing incidents Asian Americans have experienced in a year filled with many more similar instances of trauma and pain. Let’s be clear; these assaults will likely not be the last, and it will worsen if we do not take steps now to stem this wave of hate.
With each new assault every day and week, it is painfully obvious that New York City’s existing solutions are not doing enough to address the crisis that puts its 1.3 million Asian Americans in harm every time they step out of their homes. Our city has chosen to take a reactive, rather than a proactive, response to this wave of hate, and it is not working. According to a May nationwide report from Stop AAPI Hate, more than 6,000 anti-Asian incidents nationwide were reported from March 2020 to March 2021, with New York ranking as the state with the second-highest number of hate incidents reported.
As leaders of the most diverse city in the country, this is simply unacceptable. We have a responsibility to create and uphold a New York City that is safe and accepting for all of our constituents. Chinese American author Maxine Hong Kingston once said, “In a time of destruction, create something,” and that is what we must do now. We must look towards creating a new solution—one that can be implemented quickly, efficiently, and most importantly, effectively. Luckily for us, the Asian American Federation has that solution: the Hope Against Hate Campaign.
The Hope Against Hate Campaign creates and implements measures that our city has long needed and needs now more than ever, such as a centralized multi-language tool for victims to report crimes, access a victim assistance fund, and easily connect with legal and mental health services. We must keep the victims, many of whom are non-English speakers, first and foremost in our minds and reduce the barrier of access for the critical services they need. No one should ever have to feel disadvantaged because of their language, least of all those who may have just been attacked because of it.
For a new solution to work, it must not just address the assault after it has already taken place; it must actively seek to prevent it from ever happening again. The Hope Against Hate Campaign aims to do this in multiple ways. First, by establishing a safety ambassador program in Asian-majority neighborhoods, we can train volunteers to de-escalate situations and be knowledgeable about self-defense techniques and Mental Health First Aid so they can serve as a deterring presence as they canvas the neighborhood and provide protective accompaniment to elders. Additionally, by partnering with businesses and faith and community centers to serve as designated safe zones in areas across the city, we can ensure that Asian Americans have numerous places to seek help if they are being attacked on the street, day or night.
Think of the Asian grandmother and her grandchildren: how much safer would they have felt if they had fled to a shelter they knew was safe? Or of the young woman who could have chosen to walk with a safety ambassador trained in de-escalation and self-defense? Now, think of the millions of Asian Americans throughout New York City that wish that both of those things could be true. This does not have to be a desperate fantasy; we have the power to make it a hopeful reality.
However, without the help from city leaders in securing the $10 million in new initiative funding, we are stuck in this reality—a status quo where, every day, Asian New Yorkers are afraid to go to the park, to work, to the grocery store. The Asian American community has run out of time; we need the Hope Against Hate Campaign so we can again feel like we belong in a city that not only accepts us but is also committed to keeping us safe against those who continue to do us harm.
Peter Koo is a city councilmember representing Queens’ 20th District. Jo-Ann Yoo is executive director of the Asian American Federation.