Hate crime charges added in New York Chinatown stabbing case

Owen Churchill, South China Morning Post

Posted at Feb 27 2021 11:30 PM

Joseph Graziano and Alexa Lee celebrate Lunar New Year and Valentine's Day with confetti in Chinatown, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. February 14, 2021. Caitlin Ochs, Reuters

New York prosecutors on Friday filed hate crime charges against the suspect in a stabbing in Manhattan’s Chinatown that left a man in critical condition. The incident is the latest in a string of violent attacks against Asian-Americans.

The 36-year-old victim, who authorities have not named, was stabbed in the back on Thursday evening. The suspect in the case, 23-year-old Salman Muflihi, was arrested and charged with attempted homicide and assault.

Hate crime charges were added to the case against Muflihi on Friday afternoon after “further investigation” into the attack, a New York city police spokesman said, declining to elaborate on what new information had prompted the development.

The formal charges against Muflihi now include attempted murder as a hate crime, assault as a hate crime, criminal possession of a weapon, and forgery, the spokesman said.

Stewart Loo, who heads the New York Police Department’s Asian hate crime task force, confirmed to the South China Morning Post that the victim was of “Chinese descent”. As of Friday afternoon, the victim remained in a Manhattan hospital in critical condition.

Thursday’s attack came amid an apparent surge in violent attacks against Asian-Americans in multiple parts of the country, fuelling concern among community members, civil rights activists and lawmakers that political rhetoric around the coronavirus has compounded pre-existing anti-Asian racism.

“This devastating act of violence against a New Yorker is just one in a long string of increasing anti-Asian hate crimes that we’ve seen over the past year,” said Lucy Lang, a former head of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution and current candidate running for Manhattan’s district attorney.

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian-American advocacy groups, has received more than 2,800 reports of racism targeting Asian-Americans for the period of March to December in 2020. Almost 9 per cent of those reported incidents involved physical assault, according to the data.

Citing a rise in “increased bigotry and hatred”, the Justice Department vowed on Friday to put “all necessary resources” towards protecting communities against hate crimes.

The department remained “resolute in its commitment to investigating and prosecuting civil rights violations, both criminal and civil, and seeking justice for the victims of illegal discrimination,” said Pamela Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the department’s civil rights division, in a statement.

While Karlan’s remarks referenced other protected identities, including sexual orientation and faith, her statement was a direct response to reports of attacks against members of the Asian-American community, a department official told Reuters.

Thursday’s stabbing came days after a man violently pushed a 52-year-old Asian-American woman to the ground in New York’s Flushing area, home to a large Chinese population.

Addressing reporters on Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned Thursday’s “horrible act of violence” and called for an end to attacks against the city’s Asian-American population.

“What an injustice on every level,” de Blasio said. “This community has been through so much and suffered so much discrimination during the Covid-era, [and] continues to see these acts of injustice.”

Beyond New York, other recent places of attacks against those of Asian descent include cities in California, where more than 40 per cent of the attacks reported to Stop AAPI Hate have taken place.

In January, an 84-year-old man originally hailing from Thailand died after being pushed to the ground in San Francisco. And in nearby Oakland, a 91-year-old Asian-American man was violently pushed over as he walked through the city’s Chinatown.

The California attacks have prompted a range of community-based responses, including civilian patrols and even a campaign to fund armed security guards to walk through Oakland’s Chinatown.

At the federal level, meanwhile, lawmakers have introduced resolutions condemning anti-Asian discrimination, while US President Joe Biden issued an executive order condemning xenophobic language targeting Asian-Americans and instructing government agencies to remove such language from official documents.

Among the challenges that advocates point to in tackling the rising anti-Asian attacks is a reluctance among some community members to speak out about the harassment they face.

“I was taught all my life just to fit in,” Representative Grace Meng, a New York Democrat who last year authored a resolution condemning anti-Asian discrimination, said on an Instagram livestream hosted by Everybody vs. Racism on Friday. “People will think you’re American enough if you just fit in and if you’re invisible.”

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