A 65-year-old Filipino immigrant was walking down a street near Times Square in New York, United States (US) 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 on 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 M 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. 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 Biden announced a slate of new initiatives on 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 paralysed 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.
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 US from the Philippines decades ago, was overwhelmed and not ready to talk. She declined to comment further.
At Kari’s apartment on Tuesday, a man who opened the door said she 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.
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.
So far this year, the New York Police Department has received 33 reports of anti-Asian hate crimes, 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 neighbourhoods 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 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 behavioural or emotional difficulties.
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 organisation that tracks incidents of violence and discrimination against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
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.
In some instances, bystanders who tried to stop attacks recently have been injured or worse. Last month, an Asian man was stabbed to death in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, after he tried to stop the attempted robbery of another Asian man, authorities said.
The attack on Monday took place in front of 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.
This article was first featured on 30 March, 2021 in The New York Times.