FLUSHING, NY – Before sunset Monday, a few dozen Asian-Americans dressed in neon vests and jackets combed the streets of this New York City neighborhood.
They weren’t policemen. They were students, retail workers and retirees equipped with little more than a cell phone in case they came across someone being harassed or attacked. Their mission: to prevent would-be attackers from hurting other Asians, either by calling the police for help or by intervening themselves.
“It has made me feel bad,” said volunteer Wan Chen, 37, of the rise in hate crimes against Asians across the country. “So this is the time when we need to speak up and do everything we can to help. If someone tries to do something, they might think twice. “
Volunteer groups like this have sprung up in the US, patrolling the streets of Asian communities from New York City to Oakland, California. They have multiple goals: to escort people concerned about their safety where they should go, monitor community members, and if necessary, intervene if they see someone being harassed.
Cities across the country have seen a spike in hate crimes against Asians since the start of the pandemic. An analysis by researchers at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes against Asians in 16 of the largest cities in the US increased 149% between 2019 and 2020. During the same period, Overall hate crime reports dropped 7%, the researchers found.