September 26, 2022


How to Hit Back The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate. (Esther Wang, 9/26/22, New York)

For 72 hours after it happened, Brian Chin hardly left the building. He didn't sleep. He didn't eat. He had arrived at 111 Chrystie, the 23-unit apartment complex his family owns in the heart of Chinatown, at a little before 6 a.m. on February 13 after getting a call from one of his tenants. It was a chaotic scene: The street in front of the building was blocked off, NYPD squad cars and officers everywhere. The police let Chin inside, but no one would tell him what was going on. Outside, the sky was black. Snow was lightly falling. Inside, an alarm blared through the building until a cop took a sledgehammer and silenced it. Finally, an officer told Chin there had been an attack -- then asked to see the security footage.

By now, Chin has watched the tape so many times he's memorized the time stamps: At 4:21 a.m., Christina Yuna Lee, who lived on the sixth floor, returned home from a night out. The grainy video showed her getting out of a car and unlocking the door to the building and a man she didn't know following her. He trailed her up the stairs, and when she entered her apartment, he pushed his way in. Police arrived minutes later, called by neighbors who heard Lee's screams, but they couldn't get into the apartment until a tactical team arrived. By the time they entered, Lee was dead. Police officers found her slumped in her bathtub with dozens of stab wounds on her torso, and the man who had followed her still in her apartment; they arrested him and took him outside.

Lee was covered in so much blood that, according to Chin, the officers initially couldn't tell she was Korean American; he said they told him the victim was African American, and he thought she might be a stranger. When they said she could be Lee, Chin felt something in him snap. He'd had a kinship with Lee, who was 35 when she died; they had both attended Rutgers as undergraduates, and they would chat about their student days. The last time he had seen her was earlier that night as she passed him in the hall. Chin later recognized the man who followed her, too, even if he didn't know his name: Assamad Nash, a 25-year-old Black man who reportedly lived in a homeless shelter nearby and was part of a group that Chin said he frequently saw using and selling K2 -- synthetic marijuana -- on the corner of Chrystie and Grand Streets. Chin realized, he said, that "this was a crime that was just senseless."

As he paced around the building -- talking to the police, dodging the TV trucks that would fill the street -- he started thinking of everything he had seen change on the block since the beginning of the pandemic. He knew that the two Chinese women who ran the bodega on the ground floor had started closing earlier after being robbed several times. There had always been a community of unhoused people in Chinatown, but now those living on the street seemed particularly on edge and prone to outbursts. "For the most part, everyone used to sort of just leave everyone alone -- regular New York stuff. Over this past year or two, everything spiraled out of control," Chin said. "I started seeing this new breed that everyone in Chinatown saw, where there was this aggression that was just unprecedented."

Chin, 30, is a trained psychologist, a former Army reservist, and a TA in Harvard's extension program, in which he helps teach a class on the "psychology of diversity." He has a soft face and an easygoing demeanor and has never thought of himself as political. He said his family has lived in and around New York since the 1930s and bought the building in the early 1970s; Chin started managing it only last year. His family had always "kept a very, very low profile because that's how Asians survive in America." But Lee's death, combined with the other incidents he'd heard about, felt to him like a pattern; just the month before, an unhoused man had pushed a 40-year-old Asian American woman named Michelle Go in front of an oncoming subway train in Times Square, killing her instantly. "This is just a shift from what we've been used to," he said, "to a new type of violence -- a new type of racism against Asians."

He wasn't alone in drawing this conclusion. Asian America can feel nebulous, lumping together people as varied as a third-generation Chinese American landlord and a Hmong refugee. A kind of social invisibility has long been considered one of its few unifying qualities -- and in the nearly three years since Donald Trump started calling COVID-19 "kung flu" and the "China Virus," that has been replaced with hypervisibility. In New York, pandemic-era violence against Asians started more than a month before lockdown: The first widely reported attack occurred on February 2, 2020, when a man called a woman wearing a face mask "a diseased bitch" and punched her in the head. By late March, progressive advocacy groups had counted hundreds of news stories about similar assaults and confrontations around the country.

Posted by at September 26, 2022 6:14 PM


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