NEW JERSEY –– Today hundreds of people from Tenafly and nearby communities, held a vigil in Tenafly, against the rise in Asian - American hate crimes surfacing from coast to coast since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, reflecting on and addressing how to move together against hate, and create healing and safe space for the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community. The event was organized by two local residents; Cecilia Chan and Mia Hur.
Sharon poses for a photograph presenting her protest sign saying “Stop Asian Hate” and “Hate is a Virus. Stop Spreading it!!!” at the Rise Up Against Hate Vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, 3,795 racist incidents against people of Asian descent were reported, according to AAPI Hate. The string of high-profile attacks range from physical injuries, shunning (20.5%), to murder, but with verbal attacks as the most common, making up 68.1% of the national hate crime reports. This number also represents only the incidents that actually were reported.
A small group of people poses for a photograph while holding their solidarity with the Asian Community signs. This was at the Rise Up Against Hate Vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
The evening of March 16th has become a tragic date for the country. In areas of Atlanta, Georgia a 21 year-old white male, Robert Aaron Long, shot and killed eight people, including many women of Asian descent. Long visited three separate spa related locations and targeted Asian Women. Six of the eight victims were of Asian descent and only one victim was male.
Names of the Lives Lost:
Yong Ae Yue, 63
Daoyou Feng, 44
Soon Chung Park, 74
Suncha Kim, 69.
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33
Hyun Jung Grant, 51
Xiaojie Tan, 49
Paul Michels, 54
Illustration courtesy of Jonathan D. Chang
Cecilia Chan, a Tenafly resident and one of the organizers of today’s events issued a statement Saturday:
“We decided to hold the vigil because many of our community are saddened and grieving the horrific attacks in Georgia this past week. While Tuesday’s horrendous murders have received national news coverage, Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have experienced a rise in racism and violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, this climate of hate has continued, with increasing attacks and murders against our elderly and most vulnerable members of our community throughout the country. Our community continues to be stigmatized and targeted by racist speech, acts and violence.”
Mia Hur speaks to the crowd at the front podium at the Rise Up Against Hate Vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Speakers at today's event took the podium to share their stories of pain or to show solidarity with Asian-Americans. They included:
Mark Zinna, Tenafly Mayor
John Hogan, Bergen County Clerk
Assemblyman Gordon Johnson
Anthony Cureton, Bergen County Sheriff
Daniel Park, Tenafly Councilman
Brian Jon, founder of Asian American Youth Counsel
Kaylie Rim, Tenafly High School, founder and President of the Social Activism Club
Pastor Sanetta Ponton, Pastor of Justice, Advocacy and Compassion at Metro Community Church, Englewood NJ
“We come together to celebrate our diversity.” –– Said Bergen County Clerk John Hogan. “We have about 1 Million people in Bergen County and that’s what makes our country strong, that’s why people are moving from New York City into Bergen County and I think we are sending out a clear loud message that if you do anything to offend anyone within Bergen County it’s against all of us. That’s an attack on all of us.”
Assembly Johnson said –– “This is a very important demonstration. We want to get all people of races, color and creeds together to stand up against hate and racism. The events that I’ve seen in different areas, and most recent in Atlanta, it’s despicable. It shows that we have to do more work and work together as people to ensure that everyone gets to take part in the American dream that we are all trying to enjoy ourselves and also our youngest generation. On a beautiful day too. There are a lot of people here showing their support of inclusion and acceptance. So, that’s why I’m here today. I’m here to express my feelings for inclusion and acceptance.”
Mark Zinna, the Mayor of Tenafly, New Jersey, shares some words regarding the rise in Anti-Asian violence at a peaceful Rise Up Against Hate Vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
“Yet again a person filled with hate and rage has murdered innocent people.” said Tenafly Mayor, Mark Zina. “This time the killer targeted Asian-Americans as the violence against Asians Americans continues to increase. There is no excuse and there is no justification for the killing of these Americans. No justification whatsoever. Words have consequences. They always have and for the most recent four years we’ve been subjected to hate speech filled with violence and discord and we can not allow the violence and hate to control our lives now or any time. In this place here, in our community in Tenafly we have and will continue to turn our words into action. Here in this community we are responsible for making diversity our way of life.” [...] “We are in an inclusive and welcoming community and we have welcomed people of Asian, Israeli, African American, and Latino descent to our leadership in our town. [...] We are going to continue to talk and we are going to continue to take action. Because the action is what’s important and as one of the previous people said. The only people I see here are Americans and that’s how we should see one another. And that's how we should be to the entire world. So thank you to all of you; there's an incredible number of people here today. Thank you for being here.”
“It’s a really dumb, dumb reason to be here.” said Daniel Park, Tenafly Councilman. “I got a text the other day from a local resident, and at least it was something different. The text read ‘at least we’re talking about it.’ [...] I'm positive we’ve gone through the same thing growing up in this area. A joke here, a tease there; everything. The smelly food that we brought to lunch. Embarrassment that we had to go through. We’ve all gone through it. But finally, we’re talking about it.”
Members of the Asian American Youth Council stand in the crowd and hold protest signs at the Rise Up Against Hate Vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
“I am the Mayor of Palisade Park,” said Christopher Chung. The first Korean elected Mayor in Bergen County. I thank you all for coming out here today and I thank all officials for coming out here today. This gives me a little bit of positive glimpse of hope and confidence that we can make a difference. I stand before you condemning the horrific acts of hate and violence towards the Asian American and Paficific Island community [...] Since the beginning of the pandemic hate crimes against Asians has increased tremendously. Anti Asian racism is not new, but it’s fueled by dangerous false rhetoric surrounding COVID-19. I challenge myself and my community to recognize the painful history of Anti Asian racism. To learn and understand the experience of individuals and to use the power and privilege we have to stand up to bigotry."
The mayor calls for allies to intervene if they see any racist discrimination and to let those people know that hatred can not be tolerated. He calls out for compassion and empathy for Asian Americans friends and co-workers, by offering assistance before it’s asked.
“All Americans should feel safe in our community. 'Do you all feel safe in your respected communities?' Black, White, Latino, Indigenous, Asian male or female, it should not matter. We should all feel equally safe, because we are all Americans. We must fight back to make our country the United States of America a fairer safer and better place for all. It’s our responsibility to stand together and fight back.”
Brian Jon poses for a photograph before the vigil began at the Rise Up Against Hate Vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
“On March 16 of 2021 a series of mass shootings occurred in three spas in Atlanta, which led to the death of eight. Six of whom were women of Asian descent.” said Jon. “Unfortunately this case has not been reported as a hate crime. [...] The killer also said that he was having a bad day. ‘Who was having a bad day?’ [...] I didn’t know how to process everything that was happening. [..] I thought that I didn’t have the right to be angry or upset. That this was just something that happened. I questioned whether or not I was overreacting to the rise of Anti Asian hate crimes, because it seemed as if no one else cared. The six were brutally murdered and silenced. The more we stay oppressed and silenced; the 3,800 cases of Anti Asian racist incidents will continue to prevail over our voices. [...]
[...] Is it really because Asians don’t really don’t raise their voices? Are hate crimes not relevant because the history is too short? When the teacher states ‘I hate Koreans’ six times, in the safest and most prestigious school, it is not considered a hate crime. When six people are murdered in the span of a day, it is not considered a hate crime. Than what the fuck is a hate crime? Will it be a hate crime when hundreds of our fellow civilian lives are taken? Is it still our problem, or is it a problem with the law? [...] In this case the police, judges, prosecutor, and the media should first be educated, so that there should be a warning or strong initiative that must be implemented so that people are afraid of committing these hate crimes.”
“If this wasn’t racism, then what meaning does a hate crime have?”
"Call out your racist friends. Protect our elders. Ask your Asian friends if they want to walk home together with you. Please. Just pay attention, because this is our home.”
Asian American Youth Council Pin attached to AAYC’s Founder Brian Jon’s suit jacket at a peaceful Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Neerjah and Jahnvi pose for a photograph and hold up protest signs standing in solidarity with AAPI at a peaceful Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Daisy and her two daughters pose for a photograph proudly holding their #StopAsianHate protest sign at a peaceful Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
A group of individuals with protest signs gathered at Huyler Park for a peaceful Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
One of two floral memorial stands at the front of the rally saying “Our Communities Stand United. Remember The Voices at a peaceful Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
D. Borzotta (far left) and two other Bergen County Sheriff officers give their applause to one of the multiple speakers at the Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Bergen County Sheriff, Anthony Cureton, addresses the large crowd about the increase in Anti-Asian violence and crimes at the Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
A few hundred people gathered at Huyler Park in Tenafly, New Jersey to stand in solidarity with the Asian Community that is currently grieving the lives lost of the shooting in Atlanta, GA. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
A family poses for a photograph holding up their “Stop Hate” signs and making their voices heard at the Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Two signs made by Wei Wang lean up against a pole acknowledge the mass murder that recently happened in Atlanta, GA at the Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
People standing in Solidarity with AAPI cover the entire Huyler Park at the Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Pastor Sanetta Ponton of Metro Community Church in Englewood, NJ delivers a prayer to the lives lost due to Anti-Asian hate and violent crimes at the Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Zhenwei Yu (far right) and his family proudly holding a “Stop Asian Hate” sign at the Rise Up Against Hate vigil in Huyler Park in Tenafly on Sunday, March 21st, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
Already worn down by a horrific year of pandemic-fueled racist attacks, xenophobia, and endless fight for racial justice, the Bergen County community came together today to show full support for our Asian-American and Pacific Islander neighbors. They are proud New Jerseyans and Americans, and are here to speak out against, not just Anti-Asian crimes, but all hate that hinders the community's safety.
Julian Leshay and Alie Pierce have contributed to this story.