Activists in New York City joined residents of California’s Bay Area and marched against “white supremacy” over the weekend after a black man was arrested in connection with a high-profile attack on an elderly Thai immigrant, Vicha Ratanapakdee, that left the man dead.
The attack, which was captured in shocking detail by a nearby surveillance camera, was the latest in a string of violent attacks against Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants in and around San Francisco, California, and prompted a national call to address racism against the Asian community. According to local media, there have been “20+” attacks in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood alone in the past several weeks. At least one similar attack happened in New York City.
In order to bring national attention to the issue, activists in New York City organized a march on Saturday, in support of ending “white supremacy.”
“Several hundred people from the Washington Square Park ‘Unite Against White Nationalism’ rally are now marching through Chelsea. This protest is in response to anti-Asian/AAPI violence happening in New York and across the country,” an activist account associated with the movement tweeted on Saturday.
Several hundred people from the Washington Square Park "Unite Against White Nationalism" rally are now marching through Chelsea.
This protest is in response to anti-Asian/AAPI violence happening in New York and across the country. pic.twitter.com/Qy3kG3tRiK
— NYC Protest Updates (@protest_nyc) February 20, 2021
It was the second such march in a week; the first, in Oakland, California, also drew dozens of supporters, many of them carrying signs demanding that racism be stamped out, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Around the same time as the Oakland rally, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who represents the Bay Area, and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) also denounced the “white supremacy” that ostensibly led to these attacks — and even called out former President Donald Trump, specifically, for his decision to use the term “China virus” to refer to COVID-19, according to The Hill.
“As we celebrate the Lunar New Year, a source of joy, it’s also a source of pain for us at this time because of all of these incidents,” Pelosi said at a press conference.
“We warned that spreading xenophobia would put lives at risk. But our pleas and the guidance from experts were ignored,” Chu added. “Donald Trump and Republicans doubled down on using slurs like ‘Wuhan virus,’ ‘China plague’ and ‘Kung flu.’ And that tactic succeeded in promoting the stigma that directed people’s anger at Asian Americans. What started as dirty looks and verbal assaults has escalated to physical attacks and violence against innocent Asian Americans.”
It is not clear, however, whether there is a tie between “white supremacy” and the growing number of attacks in largely Asian communities. According to the San Francisco Examiner, the man arrested in connection with the high-profile Bay Area attack is a black teenager — and officials have not said that the attack was motivated by race.
“Antoine Watson, a 19-year-old resident of Daly City, made his first court appearance at the Hall of Justice after being taken into custody Saturday in what police have described as an ‘unprovoked’ attack on Vicha Ratanapakdee,” the outlet reported last week. “Authorities say Watson rushed across a street and pushed Ratanapakdee to the ground near Anzavista and Fortuna avenues last Thursday at around 8:28 a.m, causing him to hit his head on the pavement and slide into a garage door. Ratanapakdee died Saturday as a result of his injuries after being taken to a hospital.”
Beyond that, police noted that “there is no evidence the attack was a hate crime.”
The Examiner notes that crime is up across the board in the Bay Area, and “prolific offenders” have helped to drive a shocking 46% rise in the number of burglaries in San Francisco.
Teen Vogue writer and progressive activist Kim Tran tried to draw the connection between the attack that killed Vicha Ratanapakdee, the subsequent arrest, and the concept of “white supremacy” on social media last week, suggesting that attacks that occur between minority communities are prompted by systemic racism that pits people of color against each other.
“Listen, if you don’t understand why it’s problematic to offer 25k for information about a Black man in Oakland, I need you to stay off all the goddamned panels,” she said, referring to the reward posted for Ratanapakdee’s attacker.
“This is the moment we need to ask ourselves, to what end?” she added, referring to the hunt to find the attackers. “If it was for an accountability process, okay, but I highly doubt that. Lastly, this looks a lot like a bounty on a Black person funded by Asian American celebrities. I have major, major doubts.”