I hate to write a sensationalized headline like this one, but I can’t help but ask: why have the last three incidents in NYC involving strangers pushing their victims into oncoming subway trains also appeared to target middle-aged or elderly Asian American male victims?
On Sunday morning, 61-year-old Wai Kuen Kwok and his wife were getting ready to board the D train in the Bronx at the 167th Street station on their way to Chinatown in Midtown. All of a sudden, Kwok disappeared from view — shoved by a total stranger into the path of an oncoming downtrain train and to his death. There was no theft involved and no verbal exchange between victim and his assailant prior to the attack; instead, police believe that the attack on Kwok was entirely random.
While the New York Times reports 49 deaths in 2014 involving subway trains this year in New York City, Kwok’s murder is the first since 2012 that appears to be a deliberate attack; the rest have been ruled either accidents or suicides. And, I can’t be the only one who has noticed: Kwok is now the third person to be killed by being shoved onto the subway tracks in the last two years, and all have been middle-aged or elderly Asian American men.
The woman, Erika Menendez, selected her victim because she believed him to be a Muslim or a Hindu, Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney, said.
“The defendant is accused of committing what is every subway commuter’s nightmare: Being suddenly and senselessly pushed into the path of an oncoming train,” Mr. Brown said in an interview.
In a statement, Mr. Brown quoted Ms. Menendez, “in sum and substance,” as having told the police: “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up.” Ms. Menendez conflated the Muslim and Hindu faiths in her comments to the police and in her target for attack, officials said.
The victim, Sunando Sen, was born in India and, according to a roommate, was raised Hindu.
Mr. Sen “was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself,” Mr. Brown said. “Beyond that, the hateful remarks allegedly made by the defendant and which precipitated the defendant’s actions should never be tolerated by a civilized society.”
Menendez is being charged with second-degree murder and a hate crime. She apparently saw no difference between Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs — to her, brown is brown, foreign is foreign, a turban is a turban, and all are terrorists.
And, as 2012 draws to a close, the FBI reports that anti-Muslim hate crimes remain high, prompted at least in part by the last few years’ rise in Islamophobic rhetoric in Rightwing politics. Reports MintPress News:
In 2010 the FBI reported a dramatic 50 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims for the first time since levels dropped since 2001, after a surge in the amount of anti-Muslim propaganda by the media. The FBI maintains that the continuance of a high level of hate crimes against Muslims in 2011 is tied to a continuance of Islam-bashing propaganda, including battles over the construction of new mosques and the alleged plan that Muslims were to impose religious Sharia law on the U.S.
No one — not Muslims, nor Hindus, nor Sikhs — deserves to be the victim of a racially-motivated hate crime.
But, anti-Muslim hatred is something that impacts all people, and specifically is claiming Asian American, as well as Muslim, lives. Our community remains far too silent on the racism faced by people outside of our own community, and we often fail to take up the causes of those we don’t immediately identify with.
It’s nearly 2013, people. And, yet we still live in a world where people kill people because they’re brown.
The BBC is reporting that the second man in as many months to die after being pushed in front of a NYC subway was also Asian American. Officials identified the man as 46-year-old Sunando Sen, originally from India, who was killed after a woman (described by witnesses as a “heavy-set Hispanic woman”) shoved him in front of the 7 train last week. While no security footage is available from the station where Sen was killed, CCTV footage videotaped the suspect running from the station moments after the incident.
While it’s likely coincidence that both subway deaths in NYC this past few months have targeted Asian American victims, I can’t help but feel particular sympathetic, in part because these crimes are so senseless, and in part because they have a personal connection to our community.
My prayers go out to Sen and his family in this horrific tragedy.
Last week, it seems as if Ki-Suck Han, a 58-year-old Korean-born American resident of Queens was involved in a verbal argument with Naeem Davis, 30; both were on the subway platform at the Times Square station. Moments before a subway entered the station, witnesses say that Davis pushed Han onto the subway tracks. Less than a minute passed as Han desperately tried to climb back onto the subway platform, but was struck by the oncoming train and pronounced dead at the hospital later that day.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who started it. It doesn’t matter if Han had been drinking, or that Davis is homeless (a fact oft-repeated in the various news reports of this story). It doesn’t matter if Han was heroically trying to protect other passengers from Davis, or if he was belligerently provoking an argument.
Both men were human. Flawed. Imperfect. Stories that Han was drinking and unemployed and that he had argued with his wife should not mar the tragedy of his death. Perhaps it will turn out that Davis maliciously pushed Han into the path of the train, or perhaps a jury of his peers will deem Han’s death a tragic accident. We will not know until Davis — who was charged with murder in Han’s death — stands trial.
But, at this moment, what matters is that one man pushed another man into the path of an oncoming train. And, according to witness testimony, not a single person tried to help save his life.
Abbasi claims he was too far away to help Han onto the platform; and, that he was taking pictures in the hope that the camera flash would notify the folks driving the subway train. Yet, whose first instinct when trying to help another human being is to pull out their camera? Further, reports are that witnesses closer to Han didn’t wave their hands to stop the train, and didn’t try to give Han a hand to pull him out of the path of the train. Instead, witnesses stood, and gawked, and took pictures as Han’s limp body was pulled back onto the platform after he was crushed by the train.
Perhaps there wasn’t time to help Han. But why didn’t anyone try? Why was the first instinct of onlookers to watch?
Frankly, this whole story has left me a foul feeling of disgust. No one here gets away clean. No one is a hero.
I can’t help but think of how many other altercations between Asian-Americans and African-Americans there have been over the last few years, and I can’t help but fear how Ki-Suck Han’s death will only deepen the divide between our communities. In all cases, there have been no heroes, only men and women — flawed and struggling, but also loved and mourned — and a lingering mistrust between our people.
I’m tired of these stories. I’m tired of hearing about an argument between an Asian American and an African American person over take-out food, over errors in counting change, over language barriers, over harassment of subway patrons, over misunderstandings and suspicion and racism. I’m tired of the stereotypes of the violent, uneducated, hoodlum Black men and women. I’m tired of the stereotypes of the predatory, penny-pinching and unyielding Asian Americans. I’m tired of these stories ending in violence and death. And I’m tired of the tribalism and finger-pointing that happens in the aftermath of these tragedies that only lay the groundwork for the next example of violence and death.
And I can’t help but feel culpable.
Like those subway patrons on the Times Square subway platform, I am an onlooker and a participant. I watch the litany of conflicts between Asian Americans and African Americans that perpetuate an endless cycle of veiled distrust and open racism between our communities. And I lament the dearth of heroes who are willing to rush forward, to challenge the racism and the hatred, and to build a bridge between the Black and the Asian communities that will put an end to the kind of suspicion that leads to violence and death. I hope that my writing is, in small part, helping, but I worry that I am guilty of doing nothing more than standing back and taking pictures. Is there more that I could be doing? Am I lying to myself when I believe that my writing is making a difference, or am I doing little more than making my camera flash?
The truth is that the violence and death occurring due to the deep mistrust between the Black and Asian communities is, like Ki-Suck Han’s death, preventable.
In the aftermath of Han’s death, many commentators have lamented the lack of heroes in this story. I will join the chorus, but widen my net. Where are the heroes in the world who are willing to put themselves out there and help save lives by building a bridge between Blacks and Asians that might prevent future violence? Ki-Suck Han’s death will not be the last claimed by the tension between the Black and Asian communities. But, even as we mourn his death and pray for his family, I can’t help but pray that it is.
I’m tired of these stories. I’m tired of the suspicion and the hatred. I’m tired of the violence and death. We can do better. We can be heroes. Or, we should at least try.