Rising up: Hundreds rally in Manhattan to condemn COVID-19 related anti-Asian hate crimes

Letitia James
Letitia James condemns racism faced by the Asian community.
Photo by Dean Moses

Leading New York elected officials, members of the Asian American Federation, and a victim of a recent anti-Asian, hate-fueled assault took a stand with hundreds of New Yorkers on Saturday afternoon against bigotry in the Big Apple.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Asian-American citizens and businesses have been the victims of hate crimes created by ignorant individuals — from the defacement of Chinese-owned storefronts to the physical attacks of Asian individuals.

However, these vindictive attacks have grown into a rapid spate of violence in recent weeks, everything from brutal assaults in Flushing to stabbings in Lower Manhattan.

The Feb. 27 gathering at Foley Square, only blocks from Chinatown, sought to pose a united front among Asian New Yorkers, their elected officials and the public against hate. The participants — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Noel Quintana, an individual who was a victim of a hate-fueled attack — condemned the rash of crimes and called for investment in community-based solutions to put a stop to the xenophobic attacks.

Hundreds of individuals arrived at the rally to speak out against hate .Photo by Dean Moses

Waving signs reading “I am not the virus” and “We deserve to be safe,” spectators raised fists and chanted for justice as state Attorney General Letitia James addressed the incidents, one occurring mere blocks from Foley Square a few days ago.  She began her remarks by yelling, “No hate, no fear, Asians are here to stay!”

“When I think of Noel, I think of the words of Dr. King. It is the good people who fail to stand up. It is the silence of good people who fail to stand up, who allow racism and hate to persist and so all of us are here today, all of us who believe in the goodness of one another. All of us who recognize that all of us bleed red,” James said. “All of us who recognize that his scars will heal. But the scars of hate. It is the scars of hate, the taint of hate and the pain of hate. And we have got a cure and so all of us must stand together with no space between us. Shoulder to shoulder, brother to brother, sister to sister. Blacks and Whites and Asians and Latinos, all of us must say no hate, no fear. The goodness of people must stand up together.”

James exclaimed that hate will not be tolerated in a country of immigrants, sharing that statistics of these hate crimes go undocumented due to the fear of making a report. She urged anyone who has been attacked or faced any sort of racial bias to come to her office and file a report.

Other political speakers were deeply disturbed and disappointed by the barrage of hate-fueled crimes plaguing the city. 

Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng shared that hate crimes and openly discriminatory behavior has been exacerbated against the Asian/Pacific American (APA) throughout the former presidency.

Congresswoman Grace Meng spoke to the hundreds in attendance. Photo by Dean Moses
A sea of people stretched out as far as the eye could see. Photo by Dean Moses

“The APA community has been fighting two viruses over the last year. One being the pandemic that people all of the world are fighting, but one even before the pandemic hit us here in New York. The pandemic and the virus of discrimination and bigotry,” Meng said, referring to the many Asian businesses who suffered even before the pandemic hit New York City. 

She pointedly stated that the Trump administration fostered bigotry, and that she would not stop fighting against hate.

“We are here to say that we will be invisible no more! We will speak up,” Meng said tearfully, adding, “We are American too!”

Queens state Senator John Liu also spoke on the unjustified blame placed on Asian New Yorkers for the arrival of the deadly virus. Racism and bigotry were the swift killers that destroyed so many Asian businesses and created a spike in hate crimes which has included stabbings, slashings, setting someone on fire, spraying Lysol on innocent bystanders, and so much more.

“Rise up against Asian hate” read many signs. Photo by Dean Moses

“We are not the problem! We are here to stand up against the problem because of the anti-Asian rhetoric, stemming from the 45, because he ain’t getting any other title from me, to others of his colleagues as Congress Member Meng mentioned. That rhetoric harms all of us,” Liu said, adding, “We are not COVID! We are not a virus!”

Noel Quintana is all too aware of this. The 61-year-old-man was the victim of a bias knife slashing during a L train subway ride on Feb. 3. Quintana received an extensive horizontal cut across his face, the scar visible to those who saw him speak. 

Quintana recounted his experience from three weeks prior when he was simply riding the L train from Brooklyn to Manhattan on his way to work.  It was 8 a.m. that morning, the usual morning rush hour on a weekday and even during a pandemic the train was jam-packed with stragglers. Quintana quietly stood inside of the train, pressed against the door with his bag on the floor.

A man entered the train at Bedford Avenue, and stood beside him. After a short time the man kicked Quintana’s bag repeatedly.

“After a few minutes he kicked my bag. I looked at him and moved away from him so that if my bag touches him or disturbs him in any way it will no longer be that case. A few more minutes later, he kicked my bag again and that’s when I moved more inside of the train and told him ‘What’s wrong with you?’ That was when the train stopped at the next station and opened the door,” Quintana said, pausing to share the moment that his life changed forever.

Noel Quintana
Noel Quintana is left with a gigantic scar across his face. Photo by Dean Moses

“He moved toward me and slashed my face. I thought I was punched on the face, but when I saw the box cutter holding on his hand, and the reaction of other people on the train I knew I was slashed,” Quintana said, bravely looking out into the crowd. “I called for help, but nobody came for help. There were a lot of New Yorkers there and I never knew that nobody would help me in this kind of instance. I hope that there should be an awareness of ordinary people especially riding the subway of how to respond and how to help a victim like me,” Quintana said.

Quintana was distraught  by the fact nobody would aid him as he rushed through the train and the platform bleeding profusely.  Since there were no citizen videos or even anyone to intervene, the man who committed this act was not caught.

Schumer said that he was ready to fight the bigots. He then pointed at Quintana and said, “I want to say this to Noel. You showed much more courage than that son of a gun who slashed you by speaking here today and telling us what we have to do to stop the bigotry, stop the hate, stop all of it. Bigotry against any of us is bigotry against all of us!”

The main theme of day was pure and simple: “Stop the hate.” But even more than that, Asian speakers emphasized that they had been too quiet for too long.

They told all those in attendance to use the cellphones they were filming on to capture any further attacks and stand up for their fellow New Yorkers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calls for the end of these attacks. Photo by Dean Moses

De Blasio spoke briefly on his efforts to stop hatred in New York City. He also blamed the former Trump administration for feeding into hateful rhetoric.

“We will not accept hatred in New York City! Stop Asian hate, this is the message we have to get out but all over this country,” de Blasio said. “Anyone who commits an act of hatred against the Asian American community will be found, will be arrested, will be prosecuted. That is what we need. We have to show people we mean business.”

Mayor de Blasio spoke briefly, saying he will not tolerate hate in New York. Photo by Dean Moses
Many clung to one another as they listened to speakers. Photo by Dean Moses
The rally drew the young and old alike. Photo by Dean Moses