MIDWOOD – Community leaders, elected officials and candidates for local office gathered at the heart of Brooklyn’s Pakistani community Thursday afternoon to mourn the killing of a DC Uber driver and demand an end to hate.
66-year-old Pakistani immigrant Mohammad Anwar, an UberEats driver in Washington, D.C., died last week after two teenage girls allegedly tased him while trying to steal his car near the Navy Yard metro station. The fight caused a rollover crash that killed Anwar.
The teens have been arrested and charged with felony murder and carjacking.
The American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee has asked that the incident be investigated as a hate crime. At Thursday’s press event outside on Coney Island Avenue near the Makki Masjid in Midwood, several speakers frame the incident in a broader context of rising anti-Asian hate crimes as well as challenges for drivers and other largely immigrant essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is an emergency happening in real time,” said Kashif Hussain, a co-founder of the Pakistani American Youth Society (PAYS), which helped organize the event along with local resident Ahsan Chughtai, Helping Hands of Brighton and other community organizations.
“Immigrant communities have endured racism, hate and discrimination for a very long time, and now they are on edge and in a state of panic,” Hussain, who also works for Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, said.
As he spoke, women from the Pakistani American Skilled Women Organization stood behind him holding signs with phrases like “Asian lives matter” and “Justice for immigrant drivers.”
“Day after day we are witnessing brazen attacks in broad daylight against immigrant communities and immigrant workers,” he continued.
The event came a day after authorities here in New York filed three felony hate-crime charges against 38-year-old Brandon Elliot for a brutal attack on an elderly Asian American woman in Midtown Manhattan.
Several of Brooklyn’s elected officials attended yesterday’s event, among them Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and whom Hussain praised as having “a long list of standing with the Muslim community.”
“We’re here to send a clear message,” Adams said. “You don’t have to live in the shadows of the American dream, you earned the right to be part of that American dream.”
Adams, who is running for mayor, criticized a since-deleted tweet by DC mayor Murial Bowser, sent out shortly after Anwar’s death that read, “Auto theft is a crime of opportunity,” and offered tips to prevent auto theft. The mayor’s office said the tweet was scheduled to go out before Anwar’s death.
He and others also criticized the recent decision by the Middlesex County N.J. Prosecutor’s office not to press charges after a deadly pit bull attack there claimed the life of 3-year-old Aziz Ahmed. Ahmed’s family had recently moved to New Jersey from Brooklyn to be closer to the father’s work at an auto parts shop in Woodbridge.
“There’s a level of tolerance when something happens” to the Muslim community, he said. “We have a tendency to believe that maybe it was just an accident.”
Other local politicos that attended include State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon; Council Members Robert Cornegy Jr., Mathieu Eugene and Brad Lander; Council candidates Steven Patzer, Edwin Raymond and Anthony Beckford, who is also the president of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn; Brooklyn Borough Advocate Jibreel Jalloh; and a representative for Assemblymember Robert Carroll as well as Pakistan’s Vice Consul General of New York Nawab Adil Khan.
“The last four years, we had someone in the White House who was preaching hate against Muslims and preaching hate against Asians,” said Lander, referencing former President Donald Trump. “We thought maybe when he was gone, we would see a time of flourishing when we could see each other better.
But recent events have made clear, Lander said, “we have a whole lot more work to do together.”
Though little mention was made of specific government action, city lawmakers have spent recent weeks debating policy responses to a steep increase in reports to the New York Police Department of hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to expand the definition of what qualifies as a hate crime, making it notoriously tough to prosecute. He also wants the NYPD to confront hateful conduct, including “anything that’s not criminal, still follow up on aggressively, so people feel the presence of law enforcement in the city watching them to make sure this does not happen again.”
Adams has also suggested making it easier to report hate crimes, funding the installation of more security cameras around the city, and ensuring every District Attorney’s office has “a robust hate crime unit.”
But even as some lawmakers call for tougher penalties and increased police funding to investigate attacks against Asians, progressive groups like the Asian American Feminist Collective have pushed back. They’ve criticized the creation of an Asian Hate Crime Task Force by the NYPD, and they say more policing could exacerbate racial tensions and negatively impact Black and Latino communities that have been subject to abusive and overly-aggressive policing.
Even as the city’s political establishment debates an appropriate response, speakers at Thursday’s event made clear that the city’s Muslim community, which has become increasingly organized and politically active, would hold leaders’ feat to the fire.
“We have fought for a change at the federal level by voting the racist regime out of the White House,” Hussain said. “And we are not afraid to do so locally and statewide if need be.”