Brooklyn’s elected officials and community leaders reacted with sadness, frustration and anger after news broke that multiple spas in the Atlanta area were targeted in shootings on Tuesday that claimed the lives of eight people, six of them of Asian descent.
The news further heightened already-elevated fears about a spike in racist violence against Asian communities prompted by the coronavirus pandemic that has emerged both in Brooklyn and across the country. It also spurred calls for action from community leaders worn down by a difficult year.
“There have been so many rallies and marches,” said Jimmy Li, a Sunset Park resident who organized an anti-hate rally under the banner New York City Alliance for Unity last week. “We don’t want it to be that every time a crime happens, there’s a photo op for elected officials. You have to do some real work.”
“We demand bold solutions that move our city and country from a place of violence and fear to one of safety and accountability,” the organization said in a statement.
Part of that work, Li told Bklyner, involves making it easier for victims to report hate crime incidents to the city. In an online petition, he’s calling for better tracking of hate crimes statistics along with more resources and language support for Hate Crime Unit officers. He also wants social service organizations to be able to report crimes on behalf of victims who may not know how to do so themselves.
Mayor Bill de Blasio himself acknowledged the importance of reporting such crimes at a press event Thursday morning.
“I’m a believer that we of course need the bigger efforts, the education, the outreach, but we also need consequences,” the mayor said, directing crime victims or witnesses to a city webpage called “Stop Asian Hate.” “I think if we get more and more reporting, it will help us to stop – and to stop this and find the very few people who are doing it.”
But he also suggested NYPD officers could play a role in anti-racism education efforts. The NYPD has increased its presence in neighborhoods with large Asian communities in the days since the shooting.
“If someone has done something wrong, but not rising to a criminal level, it’s perfectly appropriate for an NYPD officer to talk to them to say that was not appropriate,” de Blasio said. “And if you did that on a higher level, that would be a crime. And I think that has an educating impact on people.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, meanwhile, said the city “must do more to defend ‘soft targets’ like massage parlors,” and committed $10,000 to expand his Operation: Safe Shopper initiative, which installs security cameras along commercial corridors.
But others pushed back on the idea that policing was the solution to the problem.
Council Member Carlos Menchaca, whose district includes a large Chinese community centered in Sunset Park, told Bklyner in a statement that “what happened in Atlanta is a manifestation of the Anti-Asian racism that has existed in this country for a long time.”
He also criticized remarks from an Atlanta sheriff’s department official that the shooter’s actions were the result of ‘a really bad day,” and insisted that “more police is not the answer.”
“We have to think long and hard about how we can earn the trust of New Yorkers,” he concluded, “and that starts by following the lead of our AAPI leaders.”
And in a viral tweet, southwest Brooklyn community activist Whitney Hu, who now manages Dianne Morales’ mayoral campaign, criticized the seeming disparity between the police response to the Atlanta shootings and police murders of African-Americans.
But policing isn’t the only solution on the table. In his petition, Li also called for things like a new Department of Education curriculum to “raise awareness & more understanding of the painful nature of the hate crime,” a public media campaign against anti-Asian bias, and a new “NYC Diversity Project” that would “provide opportunities for New Yorkers to know each other’s culture, neighborhood.”
“The city needs a plan to bring people together to allow leaders and students to step out of their comfort zones,” Li said. “Go out and learn other people’s culture. That would help a lot of the hate and racism.”