Protesters denounce anti-Asian hate in Lower Manhattan rally

The protest in Foley Square marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Vicha Ratanapakdee, a Thai American man killed in San Francisco.

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Zhuoer Liu

People protest against Asian hate in Foley Square on Jan. 30. The protest marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Vicha Ratanapakdee in a hate crime. (Photo by Zhuoer Liu)

Zhuoer Liu, Contributing Writer

More than 100 protesters carried signs reading “We Belong Here” and “This is Our Home Too” in Foley Square to denounce anti-Asian hate across the country on Sunday, Jan. 30. The rally was held in honor of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai American man killed in San Francisco on Jan. 28, 2021. While on a walk, Ratanapakdee was shoved to the ground and killed in an act of anti-Asian violence.

The protest was organized by the Asian American Federation, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his death.

Rallygoers also addressed the recent death of Michelle Go, an NYU alum who was pushed to her death in the Times Square subway station earlier this month. While the New York City Police Department claimed that the crime was not racially motivated, members of the Asian American community viewed the incident as another example of the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country. 

“We are here to demand the government to show action,” John C. Liu, a Democratic state senator for New York’s 11th district, said to the crowd. “We need Asian American history and experience taught in high schools. We need an entire gamut of actions from community organizations to individuals. Asian Americans need equal rights and equal protection.”

He mentioned that she is an Asian before he attacked her. He said that she didn’t belong, and I say, ‘We damn all do.’

— Elizabeth Kari, founder of AAP(I Belong)

The crowd shared a moment of silence at 3 p.m. before marching toward the Bowery, chanting “we belong here.” Before the march, the organizers supplied hand warmers, gave out hot chocolate and distributed handheld emergency alarms to attendees.

In New York City, anti-Asian hate crime incidents surged in 2021, rising by 361% from 2020, according to police data. The rate of violence on public transport has also jumped. Victims have been spat on, pushed in front of trains and called slurs. Yao Pan Ma, a 61-year-old Asian man, succumbed to his injuries on Dec. 31, months after he was brutally beaten in East Harlem. The attacker was charged with one count of attempted murder and two counts of assault as a hate crime — a difficult charge to prosecute — and the incident is now being reconsidered as a homicide.

A group of marchers hold up signs denouncing anti-Asian hate. (Photo by Zhuoer Liu)

Elizabeth Kari, the daughter of Vilma Kari, a 65-year-old Filipina woman who was knocked to the ground and beaten in Midtown on her way to church on March 29, 2021, spoke out against the spike in hate crimes. After the incident, she and her mother founded AAP(I Belong), a platform for victims of anti-Asian hate to share their stories.

“I was running my morning reports and received a text from my mother saying that someone had attacked her,” Elizabeth Kari said. “I ran to the hospital and heard her telling the police that he mentioned that she is an Asian before he attacked her. He said that she didn’t belong, and I say, ‘We damn all do.’”

A protester holds a sign up while marching to denounce anti-Asian hate across the country. (Photo by Zhuoer Liu)

Jo-Ann Yoo, the executive director of the Asian American Federation, urged the protesters to raise awareness about a heightened number of anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City. She emphasized that the city needs more resources for victims of hate crimes and better access to mental health care.

“We need to work with elected leaders for legislation and funding to get safety programs onto the ground and into our neighborhood so our seniors feel safe again,” Yoo said. “We are all suffering right now.”

Rachel Hu, an organizer with the Justice Center and Answer Coalition, speaks at the Jan. 30 rally. (Photo by Zhuoer Liu)

A study conducted by three universities found that over 25% of households reported anti-Asian violence related to COVID-19, and more than two-thirds of those respondents met the criteria for a major mental health condition. Racist and xenophobic rhetoric against Asian American communities sharply increased worldwide due to widespread misinformation about COVID-19.

“We can never imagine that two years into this pandemic, the anti-Asian hate will continue to go on so strong,” Liu said. “Obviously, the rise of the omicron variant triggers another peak of violence and hatred against Asian Americans.”

Protests marking the anniversary of Ratanapakdee’s death were held across the country, including in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Organizations in support of the rally included Stand with Asian Americans, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services and APA vs. Hate.

Contact Zhuoer Liu at [email protected]