The Island 360: Assault on Asian-American canvasser, 14, spurs calls for hate crimes unit
By Karina Kovac
A 14-year-old Asian-American canvasser and intern for District 10 legislature candidate Weihua Yan was punched, pushed and subjected to derogatory racially charged comments Monday by a Village of Thomaston resident on Colonial Road, Yan said.
Video was taken by an adult accompanying the intern moments after the incident while the intern was on the phone with police. The woman who allegedly attacked the intern can be heard shouting “no solicitation, get off” and “I assaulted you? Are you a man or what?”
The 14-year-old had dropped off political literature at the residence.
Yan said at a press conference held Friday morning that the police were called to the scene, but the intern declined medical attention and to press charges.
Police told the intern there was nothing they could do since the injuries were not serious enough, said Yan, a Democrat who is challenging Mazi Melesa Pilip in District 10.
“The mental scar will probably leave a lot of trauma for the kid,” Yan said.
He said more than 80% of hate crimes go unreported due to fears of retaliation or a lack of belief in being taken seriously.
Yan was joined at the press conference by Jon Kaiman, a Democrat and former North Hempstead town supervisor who is trying to reclaim his former post, and Veronica Lurvey, a Democrat town council member now running for receiver of taxes.
Village of Thomaston Mayor Steve Weinberg expressed sorrow and outrage over the incident.
“I’m ashamed,” he said, “I’m ashamed. I’m sad. I’m outraged. And I know it’s not how, as I said before, our residents are, but it only takes one. And we can’t let it spread, our democracy depends upon it. It’s the fabric that makes our democracy work that we have to be civil and respectful to each other. Period. There’s no room for yelling, screaming or violence or physical violence.”
Clifford Robinson, chair of the Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus, highlighted the need for solidarity and unity among communities of color, decrying attempts by institutions to divide them. He said the fight for civil rights has been going on for decades through the generations.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric, where communities of color are being pitted against each other by institutions who want to gatekeep those levels of representation,” Robinson said. “To gatekeep civil rights, to gatekeep socio-economic mobility, to gatekeep political power. But truth be told, these values need to shift, and this is our value shifting. And we will speak truth to power and our stories will be illuminated.”
Yan condemned the attack as a “despicable act of hate and violence.” He said that he has also experienced prejudice but as a father was shocked to see that type of attack on a young person.
Desiree Woodson, chairwoman of Manhasset-Great Neck Economic Opportunity Council and vice president of the North Shore chapter of the NAACP, said that there’s been “pockets of nonsense going on” and that “it must be stopped.” She said this week she was racially profiled in Port Washington.
“We condemn this kind of foolishness in the Town of North Hempstead, this is not acceptable behavior,” she said, “Children are here and we encourage our children to be a part of their civic duty and to get out and learn the process and we encourage them…A simple ‘no thank you, I’m not interested,’ would have sufficed.”
Jane Shim, director of the South Asian Hate Project at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, highlighted the longstanding issue of anti-Asian violence in the United States.
“Asian Americans are part of the fabric of our society,” Shim said, “and we deserve to participate in our shared democracy without fear of violence. I’m so impressed with this boy, who at 14 years old is more engaged in the political process than the average American.”
She said that the police telling the intern there was nothing they could do “sends a message that racial violence is not a serious problem.”
Education is the key to undoing the idea that some people are less than others, Shim said.
“Our analysis has shown that hate crimes are often hard to prove and prosecute,” she noted, “Ultimately, the strengthening of hate crimes laws doesn’t necessarily result in a decrease of hate violence. We need to target the root causes of violence with education about bias and discrimination.”
Lurvey pledged to “never remain silent in the face of injustice, bias, intolerance, or hatred.”