Elderly Asian Woman Was Lit On Fire In Bensonhurst, Not A Hate Crime?

Treyger speaking at the press conference this afternoon. (Photo via Treyger’s office)

BENSONHURST – Following months of hateful harassment of the Asian community, an 89-year-old woman was set on fire on July 11. The 89-year-old Asian woman was slapped, and her shirt was lit on fire by two men as she was walking outside her home. The NYPD is investigating, but not as a hate crime.

“What is the argument that it is a hate crime?” an NYPD spokesperson responded to us when we asked why it wasn’t being investigated as a hate crime. “The incident is being investigated by the precinct detective squad.”

According to the NYPD, “a bias incident is any offense or unlawful act that is motivated in whole or substantial part by a person’s, a group’s or a place’s identification with a particular race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation (including gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender) as determined by the commanding officer of the Hate Crime Task Force.”

Neighbors and local legislators think this incident fits the pattern of racial harassment in the community and should be investigated as a hate crime.

“This is a despicable, disgusting, and outrageous hate crime against a senior citizen in Southern Brooklyn. Although this heinous act didn’t occur in my district, I have reached out to the local police captain who assured me an active investigation is underway to bring those responsible to justice,” Council Member Mark Treyger said yesterday afternoon at a press conference. “The negative rhetoric by the President has led to further unjust hardships for minorities and people of color during the pandemic. I am committed to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including charging this act as a hate crime.”

Just a few weeks before the hateful incident on 77th Street and 16th Avenue, anti-Chinese fliers were found posted on lampposts around Bay Ridge. The fliers said, “Chinese are [destroying] Bay Ridge. Illegal home conversions–ruining housing stock of Bay Ridge resulting in a flight of middle-class homeowners; junk stores: massage parlors (prostitution), nail salons, 99 cent stores, dirty Chinese restaurants; trashed up streets, bottle collecting, scavenging; coronavirus spread by Chinese immigration.”

The fliers were investigated by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force. A few days later, counter fliers saying, “Bay Ridge does not welcome racists. Bay Ridge loves all our neighbors” were spread across the neighborhood, Gothamist reported. Yet just a month later, an elderly woman is attacked.

Unfortunately, she’s not the only one.

“About four-in-ten U.S. adults say it has become more common for people to express racist views toward Asians since the pandemic began,” a Pew Research Center study shows. And according to NYPD data, there have been 128 reports of hate crimes citywide in the second quarter of 2020. According to Jessica Lee, a Bensonhurst resident, hearing about the woman lit on fire struck close to home. She said she attended the protest earlier this month demanding justice for the woman and told Bklyner she worries about her and her family’s safety.

“The coronavirus killed so many Chinese people. Why are we being blamed for it? Our community is suffering,” she said. “My mom and I took all the precautions and quarantined for months. Now, I have to worry about our physical safety as well?”

The 89-year-old woman is fine and healing, we were told. She doesn’t speak English and her family wants her to remain anonymous.

Council Member Justin Brannan said nobody was going to get away with the assault.

“The COVID pandemic has unleashed a tsunami of violence and xenophobic hate directed towards our Chinese-American community. Compounded by anxiety and fear, COVID has taken a great toll on the livelihoods of our Chinese immigrants. In some instances, people in power and our so-called leaders have directly or indirectly encouraged these crimes by spreading lies and using anti-Chinese rhetoric,” Brannan said. “I will continue to stand with the Chinese-American community and seek justice for the victims of this heinous crime. Nobody does this to an 89-year-old woman in my district and gets away with it. Period.”

Cops are looking for these two suspects. (Photo via NYPD)

The District Leader of the 47th Assembly District Nancy Tong said enough is enough. She said there were too many people seeking to destroy their culture.

“In a time where COVID is challenging not only the Asian American community but also New Yorkers as a whole, we must unite together more than ever. Unfortunately, even when there are many people who seek to destroy our culture,” Tong said. “An 89-year-old woman was burned by two men in our very community as they attempted to light her on fire. Think about how crazy that sounds in today’s day and age. To attack an 89-year-old by lighting her on fire. The victim is older than my mother and I can’t bear to think how I would react if someone attempted to set her on fire.”

“The actions of the two men are absolutely despicable and we must bring justice to that woman and her family and show everyone in NYC and in America that crimes like these in today’s day and age are a relic of the past. These criminals must be arrested and brought to justice.”

Community members have put up a $10,000 reward for any information that may lead to an arrest. Anyone with information in regard to this incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).  The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Zainab Iqbal

Zainab is a staff reporter at Bklyner who sometimes writes poetry in her free time || zainab@bklyner.com

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