NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – A 61-year-old Asian man who was assaulted in East Harlem while pushing a grocery cart full of bottles and cans remained in critical but stable condition Monday morning (April 26), police said, another victim in a rising wave of attacks against Asians in New York City.
The man – identified by local media outlets and elected officials as Yao Pan Ma, a Chinese immigrant – was in a coma and on a ventilator after the attack on Friday night, his wife, Baozhen Chen, told The New York Daily News.
Ma was at the corner of 125th Street and Third Avenue around 8pm Friday when a man dressed in black approached and hit him in the back, police said. He collapsed onto the sidewalk.
A video released by the Police Department showed Ma lying unmoving as his attacker stomped on his head with white sneakers and kicked him multiple times in the face before running away. A bus driver who was passing by spotted Ma unconscious on the ground and called paramedics.
The city’s Police Department, which was still searching for Ma’s attacker Monday, said that officers were investigating the assault as a possible hate crime.
The brutal assault came as reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have mounted in New York City and across the United States. The video, which spread across social media, brought a new wave of outrage and fear after a number of similar unprovoked attacks in recent months.
Many of the victims have been, like Ma, middle-aged New Yorkers who were alone on the streets or riding public transit. Last month, a Filipino American woman walking to church was shoved to the ground and kicked. Footage of the attack went viral, and her assailant was charged with a hate crime.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack on Ma “outrageous” and “vicious.” Governor Andrew Cuomo said the news had “sickened” him, calling the attack a “bigoted act of violence” and ordering the state police to assist with the investigation.
A police spokesperson said surveillance camera footage suggested that Ma and his attacker had not interacted before the assault, leading detectives to believe Ma may have been targeted because he is Asian.
Reports of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have increased sharply across the country since the coronavirus pandemic began last year, as former President Donald Trump repeatedly used anti-Asian slurs to refer to the virus in an effort to link it to China.
Law enforcement officials nationwide have said attackers in some cases have used language falsely blaming Asian Americans for spreading the virus.
The New York Police Department had received 66 reports of anti-Asian hate crimes this year as of last Sunday, the most recent day for which data was available, a spokesperson said. That is more than five times the 12 incidents reported in the same period last year, and more than double the 28 recorded in all of 2020.
Police officials have said that more victims appeared to be reporting anti-Asian attacks than in the past. Community advocates have said that anti-Asian crimes have long been underreported because of language barriers and distrust of the police.
Experts testifying at a congressional hearing on anti-Asian discrimination last month said attacks targeting Asian Americans had increased nearly 150 per cent nationwide in the past year. Last week, the Senate passed a bill that would boost federal, state and local efforts to address such attacks.
The sharp rise has been particularly troubling in New York City, where people of Asian descent make up an estimated 14 per cent of the population and which has been a longtime hub for Asian immigrants seeking to start new lives in the United States.
Ma and Chen were among them, she told The Daily News. The couple moved to New York City in 2019 from China’s Guangdong province, leaving their two adult children behind.
A pastry chef in China, Ma was able to secure work at a Chinatown restaurant, Chen said. But he lost his job because of the pandemic’s crushing effects on the economy and was not eligible for benefits, so he began collecting bottles and cans in a shopping cart as a way to bring in extra money.
“He was just trying to help out the family,” Chen told The Daily News, speaking in Cantonese. “He had no bad intentions. He wouldn’t cause trouble with other people in his neighborhood.” Chen, who works as a home health care aide, said that Ma typically called her when he got home. She worried when she didn’t hear from him Friday night. When she called his phone, the police picked up.
“I am very worried my husband will not make it,” she told The New York Post.