Do Not Look Away From Evil
The first step to stopping Anti-Asian hate is to see it clearly.
Please watch this 25-second video. It took place yesterday in the middle of the day in midtown Manhattan:
Did you watch it until the very end? Did you see the building’s security guard slowly close the door as this 65-year-old woman struggled to get up from the sidewalk?
There are two kinds of evil captured in this clip. One is the evil of the alleged attacker:
The other is the evil of the bystanders.
The second kind makes even sicker. The apathy, the indifference, the nonchalance, the passivity in the face of human suffering — as if such an attack is a casual occurrence; as if she is a figure in a video game and not a real human being shoved and kicked and stomped on— says something very disturbing about what’s happening in our culture.
Some on social media have pointed out that the guard would have lost his job if he’d gotten involved. That private security guards are strictly barred from intervening in such situations because of liability. I’m sure that’s right. (According to the building’s management company, the staff who witnessed the attack “have been suspended pending an investigation in conjunction with their union.”)
I’d also say: Imagine that this woman is your mother. Really picture her, as I am my own mom, who is about the same age as the woman in the video. Now picture her beaten to the point of hospitalization in broad daylight in the middle of Manhattan. And imagine that grown adult men several feet away watched that happen to her. If your answer is still “but liability,” I’m really not sure what to say.
What is so enraging and heartbreaking of late is that each day there seems to be a new attack and a new video. Here is another, reportedly from a few hours earlier on Monday, which took place on Manhattan-bound J-train in Bushwick. According to this tweet and video, which has nearly four million views, a young-looking Asian man is beaten and reportedly choked unconscious:
“We need the public’s help,” the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force tweeted on Monday. “The NYPD is aware of this video and is investigating.”
Maybe you saw pictures from another subway attack earlier this month, in which a Sri Lankan immigrant named Narayange Bodhi was viciously beaten on the 1 train in Tribeca in the middle of a Friday afternoon. “You motherf---ing Asian,” the attacker yelled, according to witness George Okrepkie.
Or perhaps you read the story, the very next day, of a man urinating on an Asian woman in her 20s on a Queens-bound F train.
Joseph Kahn, a music video director, darkly joked on Twitter: “I’m fully vaccinated, so technically I have a higher chance of being beaten to death as an Asian on an NYC subway than dying of Covid.”
But maybe there is another evil, beyond the monstrousness of the the attackers and the cruelty of the bystanders. And that is the evil of lying about — or purposefully misdiagnosing — the problem to fit The Narrative.
As Zaid Jilani explained last week, the official media story about these anti-Asian hate crimes is that they are instances of white supremacy. “If you thumb through news articles from the past few days or read over statements from leading politicians, you’d imagine that the Ku Klux Klan is responsible for the spree of robberies, assaults and murders of Asian-Americans across the nation. The phrase ‘white supremacy’ is used repeatedly,” he wrote. “This narrative is pervasive, but it bears no relationship to the evidence before us. Not only are none of the high-profile attackers over the past few months white supremacists, many of them aren’t even white.”
Should a person’s life matter more to us if they are attacked by someone of one race, rather than another? Because that is exactly the calculus we are seeing.
Asian-Americans are being attacked and the media and the political class are contorting themselves to find a way to blame white supremacy or the legacy of Trumpism. Why? Because when the perpetrator is a neo-Nazi it is a moral gimme. When the person carrying out the hate crime comes from a group that’s also a target of hate crimes condemnation becomes much more difficult.
This dynamic deserves more attention.
For years now, this has been the case with antisemitic hate crimes. When it came to the massacre at Tree of Life, carried out in October 2018 by a white supremacist who hated Jews for loving immigrants, the response was clear and unified. The massacre at the Chabad of Poway, California, in that same year also —rightly — earned the attention of the national press and lawmakers. It, too, was carried out by a white supremacist.
I had Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who survived the attack, write this op-ed in the Times two days after he was shot. In it he warned: “Over the years people I know have been harassed and assaulted by thugs in the neighborhood where I grew up, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in incidents that typically go unreported by the press.”
Indeed, when I tell people I’m from Pittsburgh they flash with recognition and sympathy. But I highly doubt one would elicit the same response if you told a group of strangers you were from Jersey City, where a kosher grocery was shot up in 2019 by attackers linked to the hate group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites. Or if you told them you were from Monsey, New York, where, that same year, a machete-wielding fanatic stormed a Hanukkah gathering at a rabbi’s home. Or if you said you were from Crown Heights or Borough Park, where street crimes against Orthodox Jews have become a regular feature of life.
The value of a victim should not be dependent on the identity of their victimizer. This is why any totalizing ideology, from right or left, that claims people are either pure or impure, real Americans or pretenders, saints or sinners, all good or all bad, collectively innocent or collectively guilty depending on the circumstances of their birth, is so dangerous.
It blinds us to the truth. It erases our common humanity. And it must be rejected.
One more thing:
Tablet just published this important essay about antisemitism among the well-educated. A new survey shows that the old understanding — that ignorance breeds antisemitism — may not be true. “Those political causes making use of anti-Semitism are increasingly favored by the well-educated in this country,” write the authors. Read the whole essay.