New York City's Asian American women have been shaken by two brutal murders that occurred in a matter of a month. They also say that there is always reason to look over their shoulders in major cities across the country.
YouMe Lin (27), a Chinese American woman who lives in New York City for six years, said that she doesn't feel safe anywhere. "I feel very suffocated."
Christina Yuna Lee , 35, was found dead in her bathroom. Assamad Nash, an allegedly silent follower, had allegedly followed Lee up six flights stairs to her apartment in lower Manhattan. Police arrived at the scene to hear Lee's screams. However, by the time they had broken down her steel door, it was too late. Police said that Nash was found under her bed.
Michelle Go, 40 was killed in a collision with a train at Times Square subway station on Jan. 15. New York City Mayor Eric Adams stated, "I'm recommitted that this will never happen in our city."
NBC Asian America spoke to several women living in the area, who said that statements like this have become increasingly hollow. They feel that their safe spaces in New York City are rapidly disappearing after Lee's passing at home.
Authorities are currently investigating whether Lee was the victim of a hate crime or belief-based attack. Go's attacker wasn't charged with hate crimes. However, for women who feel the incidents have deeply affected them, labels are not much help.
Audrey Lew, 28, a 28-year-old who commutes to the city to work said that "the sense of panic wasn’t quite as present." It's possible for people to be creepy or try to talk to your, but it has never escalated beyond that. It has never reached the point of "Hey, I might be pushed in front a train."
"All of a sudden there's an interest"
Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum. The impact of racism and violence are felt more strongly by women in targeted groups. Furthermore, the brutality suffered by Asian Americans predates the outbreak of the pandemic. However, hate towards Asians has become viral with the emergence of footage showing attacks over the past two years.
She said, "When the pandemic-related violence primarily against East Asians began happening, people were talking as if this was the first time it's happening." People are now paying more attention. They want to find out. There's an instantaneous interest.
She said that the Atlanta spa shootings highlighted the fact that Asian women are still present in the United States. They are more aggressive but less believed in the midst of racism and hypersexualization. 68% of 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents reported by Stop AAPI Hate in March 2020-2021 were committed by women.
Choimorrow stated that there is a huge difference in how white women are treated and how people of color are treated, even when it comes to believing their stories. We are more easily victims because we are invisible and not noticed. Particularly Indigenous and Black women. Because perpetrators feel that they are going to care. Our movement and navigation to safety are different from that of white women.
Choimorrow has been hit with rocks while running near her Chicago home. She claims that bystanders often witnessed as the attackers shouted racist slurs.
She said, "You can see that there are people around when you see these attacks." "People simply stand there and observe what's going on. It's a sense of being alone.
Chung Seto (57) has been living in New York City's Chinatown since more than 40 years. According to the local organizer, she has been struck by the way that both national and local governments have treated Asian Americans as second-class citizens for many decades.
She said, "Our community has been neglected for a long time." Chinatown was not able to get financial assistance after Sandy, 9/11 and the pandemic. Our businesses were closed long before other areas of the city. This feeling of abandonment is combined with recent murders creates an angry community.
A renewed sense of anxiety
Asian women and female-presenting people say that the fear they feel after the attacks on Lee & Go is familiar. This fear is one they have carried with them since childhood, when their parents would tell them to stay in the dark after dark and not to walk home alone.
Mars Nevada, a Filipino American living in the city, said that "When you're raised as an adult woman, there is no good relationship with safety." "Safety is not something you can promise to yourself."
Nevada, who uses the pronouns they/them, arrived in the city from Nebraska on December 20, 2021. At that time, hate incidents were a regular feature of city life.
They said, "You see yourself in these women and you're like, God, it could be me."
Nevada, a public transit user, said that Go's death caused deep fear. They claim they are now hyperaware when they get on public transit and will often make extra efforts to stay far away from the platform edge.
"The other day, my friend and I got off at a station. He said, "This is the exact stop Michelle Go was killed on." I was shocked and asked him to stand next to the stairs.
The daily lives of women of color in cities across the country reflect the same caution. Choimorrow stated that this constant vigilance is tantamount to anxiety.
Glo Lindenmuth (29), a Filipina and white, said, "I used pepper spray in my bag. Now it's in mine while I walk the streets to Penn Station." "I switched to heavy boots not only for the weather but also as a safety measure. I often [FaceTime] with friends and call my boyfriend if walking at night.
Many people feel that even these measures are not enough. Others wonder if safety alarms, car security alarms, or car rides home could prevent an outburst at Lee and Go because of their sudden and arbitrary killings.
Lew stated that both women did everything right in society. "Christina took the cab to home, and Michelle was with her friends. It's hopeless. This could happen regardless of what weapons or actions we take.
"Police aren’t the solution”
Choimorrow believes that while the pain in the community is immediate and can be painful, short-term solutions such as more police officers on the streets won't solve the problem. This is because she has seen the results of the promises made by elected officials in the past year, she stated.
She stated, "Whatever they're doing it's not working." "All these mayors came out when we saw all the increasing violence against Asian Americans and promised more police presence in our neighborhoods. Many of us believed that this was not the solution. But they continued to do it and we are now correct that it is not the solution. It has not stopped violence."
She described putting more police officers in subway stations and neighborhoods as a "whack a mole" approach that does not address the root causes for violence against women or communities of color. Officials made promises in 2020 that anti-Asian hate crime would decrease by 361 percent by 2021.
She said that elected officials do not have the incentive to effect systemic change as it isn't something they can name.
A spokesperson for the New York City Police Department sent NBC Asian America the name and contact information of the man who was arrested in connection to Lee's death.
"The police don't do a good job of keeping us safe." Choimorrow stated that police have never done a good job in preventing any type of crime. "You must address the systemic problems in our country that surround mental health, economic gaps, and racial justice.
Experts say that viral videos and images create the narrative that Black men harass and harm Asian women. Seeing that media in isolation is misleading. Stop AAPI Hate data shows that most hate incidents reported by Asian Americans in the pandemic were committed by white people. Experts like Choimorrow believe it is largely due to racist messages and slurs being spread by elected officials, those in power like the former President Donald Trump, and others who profit from anti-Asian fear-mongering.
Choimorrow stated that attacks on Asian women are a sign of deeply-rooted gender and race biases. These biases can be addressed along with other crises faced by the mentally ill or homeless.
Choimorrow stated, "Even the media covers it." Let's look into the past of this perpetrator. "Let's look into the past of the perpetrator.