‘No Vaccine for Racism’: Asian New Yorkers Still Live in Fear of Attacks

“The public is seeing this rash of attacks on Asian Americans, and it is possible that there is a trend happening because of racial animus,” said Alissa Heydari, a former assistant district attorney in New York City who now helps direct the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But to prove it in court, when the criminal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, it is really hard to show that a victim was picked in large part because of their ethnicity or gender.”

The attacks, many of which have been recorded on video and shared widely, shocked the conscience of the city. Groups of volunteers now patrol the streets of Chinatown, hoping to deter potential attacks. Many Asian New Yorkers say they no longer leave home without pepper spray, or established buddy systems.

In March, the Police Department cobbled together a volunteer group of Asian American officers who work during their time off hoping to stop attacks if they see them happening — including a pilot program where undercover officers wandered streets where anti-Asian violence had taken place and was thought to likely reoccur.

The plainclothes officers were meant to both lure potential offenders into confrontation, and intervene if they saw anti-Asian harassment occurring. But the undercover strategy left officers in tenuous positions, and some were nearly attacked, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter.

In one instance, an undercover officer, who is of Asian descent, was approached by a man on a train platform in Queens. The man waved his hand and hat in the officer’s face, and said, “That’s why you peoples are getting beat up,” according to a police report. He was charged with aggravated harassment as a hate crime in April.

Another officer was approached by a man in Midtown Manhattan, who shouted anti-Asian slurs at him, and said, “Go back to China before you end up in the graveyard,” using an expletive, the police said. He was also charged with harassment and menacing as a hate crime.

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