May 3, 2021 By Christina Santucci
A slew of elected officials were joined by thousands of supporters in downtown Flushing Sunday afternoon – in a show of solidarity against hatred and bias directed at Asian Americans.
The event, called “We Belong Here: Queens Rises Against Hate March,” began with remarks from politicians and community leaders at Flushing Town Hall, and then attendees processed through the streets of Flushing.
Officials estimated that about 2,000 people took part in the march, which was organized by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. with special guests U.S. Rep. Grace Meng and state Attorney General Letitia James.
“Today we send a strong message from the world’s borough that we will not be bystanders to hate,” Richards said.
Sunday’s event also drew a bevy of elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Gregory Meeks, Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Sen. John Liu, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Councilmember Peter Koo and Assemblymembers Khaleel Anderson, Jessica González-Rojas, Ed Braunstein and Nily Rozic.
“We are making a very strong statement. Our statement is that we are people. You see the senseless killings. You see the violent attacks. It’s almost as if we are not human,” Liu said. “We are not a virus. We are not coronavirus. We are people. We are humans …. We are Americans. We are New Yorkers.”
Other speakers included Rev. Al Sharpton; Rabbi Michael Miller from the Jewish Community Relations Council; Dr. Umar Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America; and Kenrick Ross, the executive director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance.
“Five years ago when I was in Queens doing this kind of work, anti-Asian hate meant Muslims being attacked on their way to mosques,” Ross said. “Four years ago, it was a Muslim ban. A year ago it was the targeting of Chinatown. This year, thankfully people are paying attention to what has been happening to Asian Americans across the country.”
Liu said that Asian Americans needed equal protection under the law, and praised the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a bill introduced by Meng and Sen. Mazie Hirono which would simplify the reporting and review process for racially motivated crimes. The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly in April, and the House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill later this month.
“What’s disturbing is that there has been an increase in these hate crimes across the country, and in New York we’ve increased the sharpest increase in these hate crimes against Asian Americans,” James said. She cited a study from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University that found hate crimes so far this year were up 223 percent from last year.
The center recently compiled data across the country, and found that 13 hate crimes were reported in New York City in the first quarter of 2020 – compared to 42 in the same period this year, NBC reported last week.
Several speakers also called for increased education about the historical contributions of the AAPI community.
“Hate, bigotry and discrimination…is a result of ignorance. We need to teach people about what we have done in this country,” Liu said.
“If you love New York City, you can’t take the contributions of the Asian-American community out of it,” de Blasio said. “The only way we are New York City today is because of what all Asian Americans have done for us.”
During the march, participants chanted “Stop Asian Hate,” and paused at two locations where two anti-Asian attacks took place earlier this year. One site was Bowne Playground, where a 13-year-old boy was told to “go back to your country” by a group of teens. There, Richards told children at the playground, “You belong here.”
The second stop was the intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue, where a man shoved a 52-year-old woman to the ground in February.
“Our hearts go out to the way too many people who have been hurt, verbally harassed or physically assaulted, or even murdered,” Meng said, as the group paused at the corner. “I’m so thankful to everyone who came out today to say stop Asian hate, and I’m thankful to all of the people who are not just bystanders … but who have been upstanders.”
Meng also called for solidarity with all New Yorkers against racially-motivated hatred and violence.
“We as an Asian American community can not only come out when the racism is aimed at us. We have to come out when any other community is hurt,” Meng told the crowd, gathered at Flushing Town Hall.
Councilmember Peter Koo, who represents Flushing, addressed rally attendees in Chinese and English.
“New Yorkers come from all walks of life, from all over the world. Today we affirm the true values of our nation, as one that welcomes all colors, creeds and cultures,” Koo said.
The councilmember called on fellow politicians to push for the prosecution of those who commit violent acts and to direct funding to mental health, anti-poverty and education initiatives.
“I urge all of the elected officials to concentrate on the criminal justice system because talk is cheap,” Koo said.