Sunday’s attack means last 3 victims killed in NYC by being pushed into subway tracks were all Asian American men

Photo credit: James Keivom/NY Daily News.
Photo credit: James Keivom/NY Daily News.

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.

What the heck is going on here?

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2nd NYC subway killing was likely a racially motivated hate crime

Erika Menendez, 31, charged in the subway killing of Sunando Sen, is led into policye custody yesterday.
Erika Menendez, 31, charged in the subway killing of Sunando Sen, is led into police custody yesterday.

Yesterday, I noted that the killing of 46-year-old Sunando Sen by a woman who pushed him into the path of an oncoming subway train meant that both of the recent high-profile subway victims have been middle-aged Asian American men. Last month, Korean-American Ki-Suck Han was (allegedly) killed by Naeem Davis following a verbal dispute, while Sunando Sen immigrated from India twenty years ago.

The victim in last week's second subway killing was identified today as 46 year old Sunando Sen, who immigrated 20 years ago from Calcutta, India.
The victim in last week’s second subway killing was identified as 46 year old Sunando Sen, who immigrated 20 years ago from Calcutta, India.

Turns out that while the motives behind Han’s death remain murky, Sen’s murder was almost certainly racially motivated.

Yesterday, 31-year-old Erika Menendez was arrested in relation to Sen’s death, and early news indicated that she had implicated herself to police officials while in custody. The New York Times reports on statements made by Queens district attorney Richard A. Brown that speak directly to Menendez’s motives in the killing:

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.

As 2012 draws to a close, I can’t help but be reminded that this is the year that saw a deadly shooting at an Oak Creek Sikh temple that ultimately killed seven people; a shooting that occurred at least in part because Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims. I can’t help but remember that one of the first post-9/11 hate crimes involved the shootind death of a Sikh-American man mistaken for Muslim. As 2012 draws to a close, I can’t help but feel a second wound is being inflicted upon the victims at Oak Creek because the tragedy has been scarcely mentioned in the flurry of year-end wrap-up specials in mainstream news.

Members of the Wisconsin Sikh community held a candlelit vigil after six Sikhs were brutally murdered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wicsonsin.
Members of the Wisconsin Sikh community held a candlelit vigil after six Sikhs were brutally murdered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wicsonsin earlier this year.

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:

Recently released  reports on hate crime statistics found that for the second year in a row, against , including vandalism, intimidation, assault, rape, murder, etc., remain at relatively high levels. In 2011, the FBI reported 157 anti-Muslim hate crimes, an insignificant drop from the some 160 hate crimes reported in 2010.

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.

2nd Man pushed to death in NYC identified as 46yo Indian-American Sunando Sen

The victim in last week's second subway killing was identified today as 46 year old Sunando Sen, who immigrated 20 years ago from Calcutta, India.
The victim in last week’s second subway killing was identified today as 46 year old Sunando Sen, who immigrated 20 years ago from Calcutta, India.

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.

Sen, who immigrated from Calcutta 20 years ago, was a graphic designer and the co-owner of his own printing business, New Amsterdam Printing Co. Reports say that Sen was unmarried, and that both his parents are deceased; roommates say that he had no living family.

From the BBC:

The incident caused an outcry after a tabloid published a photo showing the victim moments away from being struck.

On Friday, police identified the victim as 46-year-old Sunando Sen, originally from India and a resident of Queens.

Investigators identified Sen through a smart phone and a prescription pill bottle he was carrying.

Thursday’s incident took place at the 40th Street-Lowery Street subway station near Queens Boulevard in the Sunnyside neighbourhood of the borough of Queens in New York City.

Witnesses said that moments before the attack the female assailant was talking to herself while walking up and down the platform, before eventually sitting down on a bench.

As the train approached, the suspect rose from her seat and pushed Sen, who stood with his back to her, onto the tracks, Deputy Commissioner Paul Brown said in a statement.

The man’s body was pinned under the front of a carriage as the train came to a halt. Police are still trying to identify the badly damaged body of the victim, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Sen’s death comes in the wake of the killing of Korean-American Ki-Suck Han last month; Han died after he was pushed in front of a subway by Naeem Davis who was arrested in the days following Han’s death, and now faces charges of murder.

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.

Update: NY Daily News reports that a 31 year old woman is in custody in relation to Sen’s death, and has implicated herself to police in the crime.

Death of Korean-American NYC subway victim Ki-Suck Han makes me long for more heroes in this world

Serim Han, widow of NYC subway victim Ki-Suck Han, holds up a picture of her late husband at a press conference. Their 20-year-old daughter, Ashley, is seated next to her mother.

I haven’t blogged about this story yet because I wanted to wait until more of the facts came in, but ultimately it looks like the moral will remain the same: Ki-Suck Han’s death after being pushed into the path of an oncoming NYC subway train was tragic and preventable, and reveals some of the more horrific aspects of human nature.

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.

Some have characterized Han as a hero who confronted the unruly Davis, who was mumbling and harassing other subway passengers. Davis — who has reportedly incriminated himself to police — claims that Han had been drinking, had provoked the altercation, and had grabbed Davis first. Han’s wife confirms that Han had been drinking that day, in part due to an argument that the couple had earlier that morning. And, it’s possible that the long-standing distrust that lingers between the Black and Asian communities that dates back to the L.A. Riots and earlier may have been a factor in why the exchange between Han and Davis so rapidly turned violent and ultimately fatal.

A screen capture from surveillance video footage, showing Han (left) speaking to a man presumed to be Davis, moments before Han’s death. Notably, neither man appears to be physically threatening the other in this photo.

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.

Naeem Davis, accused of murder in the death of Ki-Suck Han, appears at his arraignment yesterday.

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.

In fact, the most galling part of this story is that apparently the only witness stirred to action in the moments before Han’s death was a freelance photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, who captured a picture of Han trying desperately to claw his way back onto the subway platform as the subway train barreled down onto  him. This photograph was purchased by the New York Post and splashed across their front page under the headline “DOOMED” and “This Man Is About to Die”.

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.