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“The public is seeing this spate of attacks on Asian Americans, and it is possible that a trend is taking place due to racial hatred,” said Alissa Heydari, a former assistant district attorney in New York City who now heads the Institute for Innovation Prosecutor’s Office at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But to prove this in court, it is really difficult to prove that a victim was selected primarily on the basis of ethnicity or gender, when the criminal standard is beyond doubt.”
Last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, a flurry of hatred and violence against people of Asian descent began in the United States.
The attacks, many of which were videotaped and widely circulated, shocked the city’s conscience. Groups of volunteers are now patrolling the streets of Chinatown in hopes of deterring potential attacks. Many Asian New Yorkers say they no longer leave their home without pepper spray or established buddy systems.
In March, police cobbled together a volunteer group of Asian-American officers who work during their free time in hopes of stopping attacks when they see them – including a pilot program of undercover officers wandering streets plagued by anti-Asian violence had taken place and was thought to likely recur.
The plainclothes police officers were supposed to induce potential perpetrators to confront them and to intervene if they saw anti-Asian harassment. But the undercover strategy left officers in difficult positions and some were almost attacked, according to a police officer familiar with the matter.
In one case, an undercover officer of Asian descent was approached by a man on a train station platform in Queens. The man waved his hand and hat in front of the officer and said, “This is why you people are being beaten,” a police report said. He was charged with aggravated harassment as a hate crime in April.
Another officer was approached by a man in Midtown Manhattan who shouted anti-Asian slurs at him and said, “Go back to China before you end up in the cemetery,” the police said in swear language. He was also charged with harassment and threats as a hate crime.