Southern Brooklyn Electeds Condemn Attacks on Asian-Americans


At a rally outside his Stillwell Avenue office Monday morning, City Council Member Mark Treyger (D-Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend) stood with his fellow Southern Brooklyn electeds and local Chinese-American community leaders to condemn last month’s vicious attack on an elderly woman in Bensonhurst, and called on the NYPD to declare the assault a hate crime.

The attack happened on July 14, when two unknown men stopped an 89-year-old Chinese-American woman along 16th Avenue and 77th St, slapped her, and then set her shirt on fire. The victim has since recovered from the assault. The two suspects remain at large.

“What could be more vile and obscene than that!?” bellowed Assembly Member William Colton (D-Bensonhurst, Bath Beach). “There was an excellent possibility she was going to be killed. In my mind, that is attempted murder!”

For Colton, and for all the speakers at Monday’s press conference, the attack was not an isolated incident. Rather, they put the attack on a timeline of bigoted attacks on Asian-Americans in South Brooklyn.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes
State Senator Andrew Gounardes

“We are a week or so and two years removed from denouncing anti-Chinese-American graffiti,” said State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park), referencing an incident from August 2018 where racist and misogynist slogans were spray-painted across the doors of Chinese-owned businesses in South Brooklyn.

Treyger cited both FBI statistics and his conversations with Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez as evidence that Asian-Americans are facing unprecedented levels of racial animus, largely due to xenophobic misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Treyger claims that reports of vile anti-Asian-American fliers posted throughout Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights in June, falsely connecting Asians with the spread of COVID-19, may have been a catalyst in the attack.

“All it takes is that kind of hateful spark to galvanize that kind of violence,” he told the crowd.

City Councilmember Mark Treyger said many Asian-Americans are being falsely connected to the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Quiara Vasquez

Despite this backdrop of anti-Asian prejudice and the sheer horror of the crime itself, the NYPD has chosen not to investigate the attack as a hate crime – to the anger of the speakers, and to New York’s Asian-American community more broadly. Only a week prior, hundreds of New Yorkers from across the five boroughs marched to the 62nd Precinct and demanded the NYPD take the crime seriously.

“This 89-year-old senior, she was only a few years older than my mom,” said Democratic Assembly District Leader Nancy Tong, Brooklyn’s only Chinese-American elected official. “This could have been any of our mothers.”

Perhaps the largest obstacle in getting justice is how little is known about the two perpetrators – including their race. (Given Bensonhurst’s demographics, it’s entirely possible one or both of the perps is themselves Asian-American, which would make a bias crime charge difficult.) In addition, there’s no evidence that the perps said anything, racist or otherwise, to the victim; but as one of the speakers noted, that’s no reason not to investigate the attack as a hate crime.

“Penal code doesn’t require [use of slurs],” said Don Lee, chairman of Brooklyn’s Homecrest Community Services. “Racism is racism. This is pure simple hate.”

“They [the NYPD] have not taken these hate crimes seriously,” Lee said. “If the law is not enough to declare this a hate crime, then change the law.”

Despite the grim nature of the crime, Lee also came bearing good news: the target of the attack has since recovered, and even celebrated her 90th birthday last month. Due to her age and the ongoing pandemic, she chose not to attend the event, but according to Lee, all she wants is “safety and justice, both for her and for the community at large.”

The crowd outside Treyger’s office that Monday seemed hellbent on fulfilling her birthday wish. As Treyger put it: “you don’t mess with grandma in our neighborhood.”