"We’ve gone from being invisible to being seen as sub-human. We just want to be seen as American like everyone else," Rep. Grace Meng said.
Like many, I was horrified by a video circulating Instagram of a New York man viciously assaulting an elderly Asian woman, stomping on her head three times. Even worse, employees at the hotel not only did not intervene, but they closed the door on the woman being attacked.
Of course, you only get so much context from a 10-second video. I chose not to join in on the condemnation of the hotel employees because I did not have all the information. The attack was just another example of anti-Asian violence being on the rise, especially in the wake of a man killing eight people and six Asian women in spa shootings.
According to the Manhattan District Attorney's office, the 65-year-old Filipina woman was diagnosed with a fractured skull on Monday, March 29. She was also diagnosed with pelvis contusions, forehead contusions, and contusions across her body. The next day, she was discharged from the hospital. The victim also said the attacker allegedly said: "Fuck you, you don't belong here, you Asian." He then said something the woman could not hear before kicking her to the ground.
According to Wilson Wong at NBC News, the attacker was recently identified as 38-year-old Brandon Elliott. He was charged with two counts of assault in the second degree and one count of attempted assault in the first degree as a hate crime. District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said Elliott was accused of "brutally shoving, kicking, and stomping a 65-year-old mother to the ground, telling her that she didn't belong here." Vance then emphasized that everyone belongs here, including all Asian-American New Yorkers, and that attacks against Asian-American New Yorkers "are attacks against all New Yorkers."
Elliott is being represented by The Legal Aid Society, an organization giving legal representation and committed to ensuring equal justice. The Legal Aid Society urged caution and said:
"We strongly urge the public to reserve judgment until all the facts are presented in court. Mr. Elliot has a constitutional right to counsel and due process."
The two employees who witnessed the attack on the woman and did nothing work for the Brodsky Organization, an organization that manages luxury apartments. In an Instagram post, the Brodsky Organization announced they were putting the two staff members under suspension pending an investigation, while simultaneously condemning all forms of discrimination and violence against the Asian American community. The workers' union said the employees called 911. The management company also said the two employees closed the door because they saw a knife from Elliott. Video surveillance shows the two immediately helping the victim after the attacker left.
If these statements are true, I'm glad I reserved judgment for the building staff. Although there are conflicting accounts of whether the two actually called 911 or whether NYPD officers just stumbled upon the scene, Commissioner Dermot Shea says not to condemn and be publicly outraged at the hotel workers:
"My focus is on the victim. And my focus is on the individual...Let's not lose sight of whose responsible for this and that's the individual who committed the crime."
The story of the perpetrator, though, must be heard to gain full context into the events.
Who is Brandon Elliott?
After the cry for justice was heard across social media, multiple people called into Crime Stoppers and said the perpetrator was a homeless man, living in the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, which is serving as a homeless shelter.
Elliott has a long rap sheet and was arrested in July of 2002, according to ABC 7 News, for stabbing his mother to death in the Bronx, right in front of his 5-year-old sister. Elliott, a 19-year-old, and two years before, he was arrested for choking his mother and stealing her jewelry, served 17 years in a state prison until being released on lifetime parole.
Commissioner Shea said the system needs a better rehabilitation system for ex-convicts being pushed out of prison, saying we can't just expect good outcomes. Many local Republicans and other organizations took the opportunity to condemn prioritizing Elliott's interests as a convicted murderer over the safety of other New Yorkers, as well as the release of other "dangerous criminals" into the streets.
Regardless, Mayor Bill De Blasio addressed a question from an interviewer about what the city is planning on doing about homeless men who are suspects in anti-Asian hate crimes. De Blasio said he would have multiple city agencies working together with the Department of Homeless Services to serve the homeless, as well as employing street outreach workers and mental health professionals to improve rehabilitation. Shea says releasing people from prison right into homeless shelters is asking for trouble since people just getting out of prison need a larger safety net and more resources.
The attack on the Asian woman was frightening and a sign Asian lives and safety are growing more dispensable. Elliott could face up to 25 years in prison. Society must give people second chances, but it must also not stop the conversation at just the second chance and must take rehabilitation more seriously.