Chinatown Block Watch: How an NYC group is fighting racism and xenophobia against Asians amid Covid-19 pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc across the world but reports popping up from all over the country that Asian communities are facing severe backlash over the contagion's rapid spread. Since the onset of the pandemic, media outlets have highlighted China as the center of the outbreak which has ultimately provoked hateful crimes, bias, and violence against Asians residing in various parts of the world. New York City has reportedly been experiencing a lot more hate-based activity against Asians living in Chinatown, and other areas, which has prompted the formation of the 'Chinatown Block Watch'.
The blame on Asian Americans
On May 5, ABC 7 reported an increase in cases of bias and discriminatory attacks against Asian Americans in New York City. Manhattan's Chinatown area, especially, has been experiencing a spike in xenophobic and racist attacks. According to the NYPD crime reports from April, the police counted 14 hate crimes with 15 Asian American victims and 11 arrests -- all in reference to Covid-19 induced racism. While the crime rates in the city dropped drastically, the hate crime and bias attacks are on the rise.
Detectives said a man attacked an Asian American woman with acid in Brooklyn as she tried to dispose of garbage, but no arrests were made. In Queens, officials said another man spewed racist and hostile anti-Asian slurs towards a 36-year-old woman. When she attempted to capture him on her phone, he slapped it out of her hand and it shattered on the ground. He hasn't been caught either. In another instance, police are still actively searching for a young woman who repeatedly hit an Asian American woman on the head with an umbrella while on a bus.
The xenophobic incidents began just as immediately as the first coronavirus case was reported in the US in January and it mushroomed into a global pandemic. However, as the number of positive cases rose and the dead bodies mounted, the incidents took a darker turn with predetermined targets.
The hate crimes specifically targeting Asian communities have spiraled into more violent attacks over the course of the last few months, based on the accusation that China is to be blamed for proliferating the deadly virus to the rest of the world. According to a recent survey by the Center of Public Integrity, over 30 percent of Americans have seen someone accusing Asian people of spreading Covid-19.
The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council found that nearly 1,500 incidents of coronavirus-based discrimination had been reported nationwide, in April, of which 16.7 percent were from New York. The reports detailed that they were spurred by the refusal of service at an establishment or even discrimination in the workplace. 60 percent of the reported incidents comprised verbal harassment with statements implying “get this coronavirus chink away from me” or “go back to your country”.
The fodder to this flame is the President's very public address in which he often refers to the pandemic in terms of being the 'Chinese Virus' or 'Wuhan Virus'. This has not only incited new attacks on the Asian communities but also fuelled the xenophobia that was already prevalent only aggravating the fear and blame towards the Asian demographics in the US.
NYC Human Rights Commission
With local governments stepping up to combat the growth of Asian discrimination during the pandemic, the NYC Human Rights Commission announced that they were launching a special task force to respond to anti-Asian harassment. The organization's move comes as a response to concerning information where they gathered 248 reports of various coronavirus related incidents of harassment and discrimination. 42 recent of these 248 cases were attacks targeting Asians.
"All New Yorkers are facing extraordinary levels of stress right now; discrimination and harassment should not be among them,” said Carmelyn P Malalis, chair and commissioner of the NYC Human Rights Commission. In addition to the NYC Human Rights Commission's team, New York Attorney General Letitia James launched a hotline for victims of hate crime to access and report similar incidents. “No one should live in fear for their life because of who they are, what they look like, or where they come from,” she said. A state official told NY City Lens that they had received more than 100 complaints over the hotline.
Asians in Manhattan form 'Chinatown Block Watch'
Earlier this month, a diverse group of Chinatown residents came together to form a grassroots group of guardians called the 'Chinatown Block Watch.' With the uptick in discriminatory and xenophobic attacks against Asians, and the instant reactionary measure was this new patrol group that aims to protect fellow Asians and neighbors in the locale from being subjected to Covid-19 related hate crime. The Chinatown Block Watch patrols Manhattan’s Chinatown and Lower East side to monitor and report incidents of anti-Asian harassment in the area, nonviolently. "Asians in this city, we're suffering the same hardships, we're under the same stress but we do not look for anybody to scapegoat," said Karlin Chan, the founder of Chinatown Block Watch, to Bloomberg. "We want to let people know that we want to tolerate this kind of behavior in Chinatown or the nearby areas."
The Chinatown Block Watch functions as a patrol group compromising of neighbors that keep an eye out for their neighbors. They observe, witness, and document the patterns of harassment that occur in the area. "New York City is a very tolerant city but there are people out there, they're looking for someone to blame and I'm unfairly the racists are pushing this agenda that we need to blame the Chinese or blame the Asians for this," Chan added. "[Chinatown Block Watch] actually started with me and two other guys. So I put on our social media and a lot of the residents, my friends that live in the area - they wanted to get involved. So now we have over 20 people. We're not all Chinese. We have a very diverse group here."
"Watching these videos of this being attacked all over the country and all over the world gave us a sense that it just wasn't very safe to come out," said Grayson Chin, a member of the patrol group. "As a matter of fact a lot of the older people in Chinatown also didn't feel safe. But a lot of times they're living alone. They have to go out and do their own shopping The beginning of this group was to alleviate that."
The police forces that were entrusted with monitoring Chinatown were left at a disadvantage when 15 to 20 percent of the NYPD reported viral infections. "We are not replacing them at all. We are extra eyes on the ground for them. If we see something, we're going to call and report it," said Chan. "But we're visible a deterrent. So we are reassuring to the residents of the community who are in line to buy groceries and we are reassuring businesses that are open."
The formation of the group was sparked out of an incident that took place on Grand Street, earlier this month when two customers refused to wear face masks or were possibly unable to read the signs which were printed in Chinese. A misunderstanding tends to blow out of proportion especially with a language barrier. The customers broke out into a brawl over this. "There is a need for disseminating information to business owners as they slowly open up. We're not just patrolling anymore. We've been passing out fliers in English and Chinese," Chan explained the group's responsibilities. "We've been trying to disseminate information as we get it, that we think is important for the community - notices of government grants for small businesses, cash grants, forgivable loans, even unemployment."
Many people living in the Chinatown area either don't understand English or don't have access to English media. "We are people of different backgrounds and ethnicities, but we're all coming together to fight xenophobia and racism," said Chan.