The events were organized in response to the deadly shootings that took place this past week in multiple Atlanta spas, which claimed the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian women.
Jimmy Li, a Sunset Park resident and member of the New York City Alliance for Unity, organized an anti-hate rally and march in Sunset Park.
“There have been so many rallies and marches,” Li said in an interview with the website Bklyner. “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.”
Li called for legislative changes that would make it easier for victims to report hate incidents to the city. An online petition in support of this idea is currently nearing its goal of 5,000 signatures.
On Saturday night, Li and other community leaders from the New York City Asian-American Democratic Club organized an additional vigil to remember and honor the victims of the Atlanta shooting.
“We call for unity to oppose hatred,” said Karen Low, one of the event’s organizers. “It is not enough to raise awareness and pay lip service, we must take action.”
Nearly 500 people attended the vigil virtually over Zoom, including faith leaders from Brooklyn’s Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, and Catholic communities, who expressed their solidarity with the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander community.
“We may have found a vaccine for COVID,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, “but we did not yet find a vaccine for hate.”
Congresswomen Grace Meng of Queens and Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn spoke at length about their efforts to pass the COVID Hate Crime Act. The bill would condemn and denounce all forms of anti-Asian sentiment, including those related to COVID-19, as well as call on federal law enforcement to work more closely with local agencies regarding hate crimes.
“Growing up as an Asian-American born and raised here, we were never taught to speak out or rock the boat,” explained Meng. “This bill is a first step, but a necessary step.”
Borough President Eric Adams reaffirmed his commitment to protecting the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander community by highlighting his NYPD experience and longstanding willingness to stand up for hate crime victims.
“There is a systematic bias that exists and we need to be honest about it,” said Adams.
Earlier in the week, Adams had held an event of his own with local business leaders at 8th Avenue and 60th Street in Sunset Park.
Adams announced his plan to expand Operation Safe Shopper, a program that calls for the installation of additional security cameras in stores and other commercial corridors, as a means of increasing safety for Asian-Americans and other at-risk communities throughout the five boroughs.
“This area is not bad,” said a store clerk at Sunrise Herbs Corp. after Adams’ announcement. “But I know other parts of the city are not as safe.”
An employee at a nearby phone repair shop explained that “these problems have always been around,” but that he was happy that “people finally want to fix them.”