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After a brutal slaying, Chinatown pushes back

And last week, Jarrod Powell, 50, was charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime in the New Year’s Eve death of 61-year-old Yao Pan Ma, a Chinese immigrant who was brutally attacked in April while collecting recyclables in East Harlem. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Ma was targeted “for no other reason than his race.”

Hate crimes against Asian New Yorkers surged last year, according to NYPD data. There were 131 reports of anti-Asian hate crimes, up from 28 the year before.

The violence has left Chinatown reeling, and local activists pushing back.

“We already have five shelters, and the city is dumping three more,” Jacky Wong, a member of Concerned Citizens of East Broadway, said after the vigil. “They’re really taking advantage of people of color.”

He added: “We are not blaming them but the reality is we are high risk.”

Assamad Nash, 25, was arrested in connection to Lee’s killing and charged with murder, burglary, and sexually motivated burglary. “I didn’t kill anyone,” he said while being led from the Fifth Precinct station house in Chinatown Monday afternoon, the New York Times reported. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

The authorities said he has a history of misdemeanor arrests, and was out on supervised release following January arrests for criminal mischief and escape, adding to an ongoing debate about whether bail reforms enacted by the Legislature pose a threat to public safety.

Police said he had stayed at a nearby homeless shelter – fueling community concern over new shelters planned for the community. But Chinatown residents have hardly been of a single mind on the issue of shelters.

Last month, Community Board 3 voted overwhelmingly in support of a plan to convert a hotel at 91 East Broadway into a 120-bed Safe Haven Shelter, in response to the killing of four homeless men on the streets of the neighborhood in 2019. But community activists say the plans for shelters come on top of another major burden – plans for a new jail.

Jan Lee, a member of Neighbors United Below Canal, said Christina Lee’s death had both terrified and galvanized the community against the jail project, seen as part of a series of connected worries.

Indeed, many of those who attended the vigil honoring Christina Lee [no relation to Jan Lee] have also been involved in efforts opposing the new jail at 125 White St., where construction is said to soon begin.

“People are hyper aware of violence, of everything connected to violence and why the policies are failing,” Lee said. “They’re understanding the connection between homeless shelters and jails and violent crime and why they’re occurring, and what leads to the root cause of these things, and how structures, gigantic structures are not the solution to having safer streets. People are very aware of that connection now.”

While some community residents see the planned high-rise jail as wholly separate from the issue of anti-Asian violence, Councilmember Christopher Marte, who represents the district, sees a thread connecting the two.

“Mostly, communities of color, low-income communities just feel ignored,” he said. “And I think this eventually just builds on who’s listening to you, who’s advocating for you, who’s representing you. It does play a large part in the back of people’s minds.”

Commercial tenants of the existing jail complex have already had their leases terminated, in what opponents fear will be a larger pattern of business displacement from the neighborhood.

Many opponents of the jail, which is tied to the planned closure of the jail at Rikers Island, are pinning their hopes on Mayor Eric Adams. As a candidate, Adams stood with Lee and Marte and voiced his opposition to the jail.

“I join you today in saying no new jail. No building up a jail in this location,” Adams said in October. “We can do a better job and I know it’s possible to solve the problems we are facing with incarceration without the destruction of communities.”

Adams’ position now that he is in office?

In reply to an inquiry from Gothamist, a mayor’s office spokesman would not offer a for-the-record response.

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