The leader of the Chinatown BID/Partnership is well aware of how the Chinatown community needs to have its guard up following a recent stabbing in the neighborhood — and how important it is to find a way to heal.
According to the NYPD, at 6:20 p.m. on Feb. 25, 23-year-old Salman Muflihi approached a 36-year-old man walking on the sidewalk at the intersection of Worth Street and Baxter Street. Muflihi allegedly approached the victim from behind and plunged an 8-inch kitchen knife into the victim’s back before fleeing the scene.
The victim was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he still remains in critical condition. Muflihi was taken into custody that same night after reportedly turning himself in.
Chinatown BID/Partnership Executive Director Wellington Chen was in the area that night, walking around Chinatown and the surrounding area to see how restaurants were doing in the neighborhood and taking pictures. Chen ended up being a witness to this crime, though at the time Chen did not realize that it had happened.
“Within minutes the victim and I were side by side. I saw a man come running up the block — he was sprinting — and got to the victim and sort of shoved him. I thought they knew each other, they were both relatively young guys and this young man dashed up to him like a human cannonball and tapped him on the back,” said Chen. “The victim turned around and in that time, the attacker was already across the street and mid-block. The whole thing happened so fast, I made nothing of it.”
Chen says that the victim was still standing as he walked away, and he noticed that after he left a few people came outside and were near the victim. Chen then snapped a photo of the group.
Once the attack made its way to the news, Chen saw himself in the surveillance video that was making the rounds. He reached out to a reporter and gave them his photo from that night.
“If they didn’t have the security camera there, no one would have known what happened,” said Chen. “I gave the reporter that photo and they were smart enough to enlarge it and saw there was blood on the floor.”
The victim ended up losing a kidney and an adrenal gland as a result of the stabbing.
The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force was initially brought in to investigate, however, the indictment from the Manhattan District Attorney did not have any hate crime charges. Many New Yorkers, community leaders and members of the NYPD rallied around the District Attorney’s office calling for the charges to be amended to include hate crime charges.
“Who carries an 8-inch knife around in their pocket? The law in New York is not to carry more than a 4-inch knife,” said Chen. “The fact that you carried a knife that large, it can only mean one thing: it was premeditated.”
Chen saw at even before the start of the pandemic in New York City, attendance in Chinatown was on the decline. The week before the stabbing, Chen was interviewed by Marcia Kramer on CBS and told her that his antenna is up, especially right now.
“In the 1980s, I got ambushed. I knew a guy was going to bash me in the head with a bottle, and that’s what happened,” said Chen. “My instinct always tells me when there’s something wrong here. I said I am now heading advice of a former retired cop: when we walk down the block, we anticipate when someone may ambush us. In all my decades in New York City, I feel now all antennas should be up.”
Since the start of the pandemic, anti-Asian hate crimes began to rise. Following the stabbing, there were other incidents that were aimed against the Asian community. On Feb. 27, many New Yorkers, Chen included, rallied in Foley Square to condemn and call for the end of the hate towards the Asian community.
“It was a lot of people, Asian, non-Asian, white, Black, Brown. One of the signs that stood out to me said ‘Enough is enough,’ that expressed the sentiment,” said Chen. “There was a Filipino guy there, he took off his mask and showed that he was slashed under his nose across his face a few weeks before. He said, ‘nobody came to my aid, they just let me bleed.'”
As a result of the uptick of hate crimes, the Chinatown BID/Partnership is working with a crisis management expert who told Chen and the team that this is history repeating itself.
“I don’t believe this is a reflection of the police or security in the city,” said Chen. “We’ve been warned that this is unavoidable. Unfortunately, after this type of thing, we have to find the devil. And in this case, the Asian community is the Bronx Zoo tiger. They say we have to hit you, and we don’t know why. Most of us have never been to Wuhan, many of us were born here. Every Filipino, Singaporean, anyone with an Asian face got dragged into this.”
In an effort to help New Yorkers support the Chinatown community, Chen and the Chinatown BID/Partnership teamed up with Schneps Media to host a words of kindness campaign in an effort to bring comfort and warmth to the hearts of struggling businesses and residents in Lower Manhattan amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Named Warm Hearts NYC, the neighborhood is asking for readers to submit a sentence (or paragraph) of up to 25 words of encouragement that they believe would lighten the lives of business owners during this dark period in their lives.
“This is calling on our common humanity, putting a message out will save a life,” said Chen.