Demonstrators gathered Monday morning to mourn and protest anti-Asian hate crimes following the brutal killing of a 35-year-old Korean American woman in her apartment on Sunday.
"I felt I needed to show up for the demonstration today and stand with others who are tired of living in fear," said Justine Browning, a 34-year-old PhD student and professor who joined the crowd of about 250 protesters in Manhattan on Monday. "To be alongside the Asian community and raise our voices until the city’s leaders cannot ignore them anymore."
Police identified the victim as Christina Yuna Lee, who was stabbed to death by a stranger who followed her into her sixth-floor walk-up apartment in New York City's Chinatown neighborhood. Surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post shows the suspect, identified as 25-year-old Assamad Nash, stealthily following Lee as she walks down the hallway and out of the camera's view.
Other tenants in the building reportedly heard Lee screaming for help and called the police.
Officers responded to the 911 call at 111 Chrystie Street at 4:23 a.m. on Sunday, Sgt. Edward Riley told BuzzFeed News. Officers could not immediately enter the apartment because someone had barricaded themselves inside and locked the door. They eventually forced their way into the apartment and found Lee dead in the bathroom.
Nash attempted to escape out of a back window, but police arrested him inside the apartment, officials said. Nash, who had a history of misdemeanor charges, was charged with murder and burglary.
Police did not comment on whether they will consider the attack to be a hate crime.
Yi Andy Chen, director of Coalition of Asian Americans for Civil Rights and one of the organizers of the protest on Monday, told BuzzFeed News he has already "lost count" of how many similar demonstrations he's gone to the last two years. His mother was a victim of a hate crime in February 2020, when she went out for groceries and someone pushed her onto the sidewalk, causing an injury that needed 12 stitches.
Lee's killing comes just a month after another Asian American woman, Michelle Alyssa Go, 40, was killed when she was pushed in front of a Times Square subway train. Go's death was not considered a hate crime.
"Since Alyssa Go’s death and the attack on Bew Jirajariyawetch, many are more inclined to take cabs for protection," Browning said. "That’s exactly what Christina did and she was still not safe."
Attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) rose by 361% between 2020 and 2021, according to the New York Police Department.
"This is the definition of horrific," New York Mayor Eric Adams said in a tweet Sunday about Lee's stabbing. "We stand with our Asian community today."
Chen said it's essential to report any incident of anti-Asian harassment or violence. Sometimes people don't report these incidents because of a language barrier or because they fear their attacker will come back, he said. But it's "our job," he said, to speak up about threats to bring the situation into focus and help the AAPI community get the necessary support they need.
"There seems to be a rush to not label these events as hate crimes, even before investigations are completed," Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation told BuzzFeed News. "This shapes the media narrative and affects how these crimes are reported, talked about, how much attention is paid to our vulnerable communities, and discourages people from reporting crimes when they are not being taken seriously."
The foundation is calling on New York City to invest $30 million in emergency mental health support services — resources to address the fact that most anti-Asian attackers suffer from mental illness and that the AAPI community is "suffering from trauma after bearing witness to attack after attack," Yoo said.
Asian women are especially vulnerable to harassment and attacks because of the stereotype they are "timid and docile," and therefore "easy targets," Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said.
“Whether it was a hate crime or not, the reality is, for Asian Americans, especially Asian American women, our anxiety goes up every time we see an incident like this. Regardless of what the correlation is, we see ourselves every time a story like this comes out," Choimorrow added.
Other AAPI advocates reacted with solidarity and frustration.
"This tragic and frightening incident underscores the danger that is ever present to AAPI women in public spaces: the threat of being harassed or attacked on the basis of our race and our gender," the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum said in a statement.
"If we continue down a path that fails to recognize the patterns of these problems, we will not be able to coexist in a city that we all feel safe in," Julie Won, a member of the New York City Council, said in a tweet.
Lee was a graduate of Rutgers University and a digital producer at Splice, an online digital music platform. She produced digital content for brands including Google, Cole Haan, and ALDO, according to her website.
"Christina was an irreplaceable presence," her colleague Kenneth Takanami said in a statement about losing Lee. "Heartbroken or devastated doesn’t begin to cover it."
Lee started working at Splice around the time of the deadly Atlanta spa shootings, where most of the victims were Asian women, Takanami said.
"After the Atlanta attacks, we and the other Asians at Splice formed a channel to support one another. The thought of folks we didn’t know being senselessly murdered struck us all deeply," he wrote. "The last and most recent message in this channel was Christina wishing us all a happy Lunar New Year."
Her employer said in a statement that Lee was "dedicated to making beautiful and inclusive artwork."
"As we start to process this tragedy, we ask that you remember Christina Lee as the magical person she was, always filled with joy," the statement said.
New Yorkers, especially women, are used to being on high alert, Browning said. But the mood at Monday's protests was filled with "an added layer of devastation," she said. Many community members discussed how they were now scared to leave their apartments.
"The question many were asking today was 'Who will be next?'" she said. "You could see local shop workers, parents, grandparents, concerned residents, and activists looking around at one another, questioning who among the community will meet such a grim fate next. There is urgency in this fight."