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Asian Americans unite to reclaim the streets

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-21 09:21
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Richard Lee (right), a patrol team leader, gets information from a resident in Flushing, New York, on April 7. GAO TIANPEI/CHINA DAILY

Foot patrols spring up in cities across US to ease fears after surge in attacks

The dozen Asian Americans walked together on a bustling street in Flushing. They wore neon orange vests, black jackets and body cameras and carried walkie-talkies.

Some residents in the heavily Asian borough of Queens waved to them from across the street. Some honked their car horns, while others said "thank you" when the team - whose members wear a bright-yellow logo labeled "Public Safety Patrol" - walked by.

A woman with the patrol handed out flyers and told people to call the phone number on it if they needed help. A street vendor took the flyer, folded it three times and put it in her pocket.

It is the second month of the Flushing "PSP" patrols, made up of four groups of volunteers. Their goal: to help prevent racist attacks against Asians in their part of New York City.

Across the US, from New York City to Oakland, California, and other cities heavily populated with Asians, people are stepping up and forming volunteer groups like the Flushing patrol to guard the streets of their communities amid a rise in hate crimes against Asians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are different from police. We are the eyes and ears for the police officer. They execute the law, and we help them to get evidence and stop the crime," said Richard Lee, a former New York Police Department officer and one of the Flushing patrol's team leaders.

"I told my team members not to have anybody touch (any) criminals. Report to police if you see an incident.

"Unless you deploy police at every corner … we can do more than the police. By showing up in the streets, we hope to make local business owners feel safer, and we hope to drive criminals away from the neighborhood."

Asian Americans are experiencing fear and anger sparked by the assaults, particularly those of older men and women.

Teaming up with friends

The NYPD has received 35 reports of anti-Asian incidents in the past three months, compared with 28 in all of 2020 and three in 2019. As the attacks increase, Asian Americans and their allies are trying to make their streets safer.

More than 60 people are in the Flushing patrol. They are firefighters, police officers, doctors and an emergency medical services ambulance worker. They are also students, artists, retail workers and retirees. Authorized by the NYPD, the teams are led by at least one former city police officer.

Ninety percent of the volunteers are Asian Americans, and the others are Hispanic and white people. They conduct foot patrols from 5 pm to 7 pm daily, and from 8 pm to 10:30 pm, the teams patrol in cars.

"No matter who you are, how old are you, as long as you really want to help our community, you're very welcome to join us," said Lee.

A man who appeared to be planning a robbery in Flushing was stopped by team members a few days ago, Lee said. The man had been watching a store for two or three days and then discovered that a patrol team was also observing him. The man walked away feeling that he had no chance to carry out a robbery.

Lee said that as a former New York City police officer, he has been trained to recognize suspicious situations.

Asian communities in many cities are made up of many new immigrants and elders who don't speak English. Those individuals usually don't feel comfortable turning to the police for help, Lee said. A team of Asian Americans such as those in the Flushing patrol can make them feel more comfortable and help them report incidents.

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