Another week, another horrific viral video showing a brutal attack: This time, in New York City, NYPD released a video of 65-year-old Vilma Kari being kicked in the stomach and stomped on the head by Brandon Elliot in an unprovoked attack in the middle of the day in midtown Manhattan. The video is horrifying to watch; Ms. Kari, who had been on her way to church at the time, was lucky to have survived.
The video is also, unfortunately, representative of several concerning social trends in recent years, not all of which have been covered honestly by the media or responded to in good faith by political leaders. For one, it shows what appears to be yet another hate-fueled attack on an Asian person, part of a worrisome rise in attacks on Asian Americans. Ms. Kari is an immigrant from the Philippines and Elliot reportedly yelled “F–k you, you don’t belong here,” as he assaulted her.
Counter to the preferred media narrative about violence against Asian Americans, which emphasizes its supposed roots in “white supremacy,” Ms. Kari’s attacker, like many of those arrested for attacking Asian Americans in New York City and elsewhere, is black. As the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald documented in Quillette, “a black New Yorker is over six times as likely to commit a hate crime against an Asian as a white New Yorker, according to New York Police Department data. In 2020, blacks made up 50 percent of all suspects in anti-Asian attacks in New York City, even though blacks are 24 percent of the city’s population. Whites made up 10 percent of all suspects in anti-Asian attacks in 2020 in New York City but account for 32 percent of the city’s population.
Dozens of recent violent attacks and murders of Asian Americans, many of them elderly, have been committed by black people, something the media has chosen to either downplay or ignore, not only because the race of the alleged assailants doesn’t fit the mainstream-media narrative about white supremacy but perhaps because the attacks are so brutal: Mac Donald describes, for example, how “two 19-year-olds and a 20-year-old walked into a San Francisco laundromat where a 67-year-old man was sitting. They kicked him to the ground, dangled him upside down by his legs, twisted him back and forth, and beat him while they rifled through his pockets. Finally, they found his wallet and walked out the door. In January 2019, an 88-year-old great-grandmother, Yik Oi Huang, went missing. When her son searched the park next to her home, he saw what he thought was a pile of old clothes next to a recycling bin. It was his mother, beaten so brutally as to be unrecognizable and choking on her own blood.”
The same avoidance of reality plagues political leaders who must confront this issue. It’s much easier to make vague pronouncements about “ending hate” and fighting nameless internal “foes,” as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris did at Emory University recently when discussion anti-Asian violence, than it is to explain how an innocent grandmother ends up choking on her own blood after a fatal beating. When black-on-Asian violence is addressed directly, it is often done so only to dismiss its impact. Political science professor Claire Jean Kim told Slate, for example, that it was wrong to think of these many documented attacks as simply black-on-Asian crimes: “If you use that frame, you make it an Asian-Black thing, you’re focusing on the two groups and taking attention away from the larger structures of power in which they’re embedded—not just racial structures, but also capitalism,” she said. And although she claims not to want to minimize what has happened to Asian Americans, she does precisely that by arguing, “Violence against Black people in this country is continuous, structural; violence against Asians is more periodic, contingent on events.”
The recent video also points to the results of another failure of civic responsibility on the part of our criminal justice system and political leadership: Mr. Elliot was on parole for the murder of his own mother when he attacked Ms. Kari, suggesting that he was not as compelling a candidate for reintegration into society as the parole board deemed him to be. Moreover, he was staying comfortably on the public’s dime in a nearby hotel that has been converted into a homeless shelter by Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose inability to resolve his city’s homeless crisis has had numerous second-order effects for the city’s residents.
Finally, the assault revealed another civic failure: the heartless unwillingness of bystanders to get involved when they see someone under attack. The New York Times reported: “As the violent scene unfolded in Manhattan, three men watched from the lobby of a nearby luxury apartment building. When the woman struggled to stand up, one of the men, a security guard, closed the front door to the building.” Whether they reacted out of fear for their own lives or not, it is deeply disturbing to see others react so callously to Ms. Kari, whose life was clearly in danger. As the Times notes, “Some Asian-Americans said the attack this week in Manhattan sent a chilling message: Even if assaulted on a busy street in broad daylight, they may be left to fend for themselves.”
Although psychologists continue to debate the legitimacy of the so-called “bystander effect,” the city that made the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese a symbol of apathy and out-of-control crime should perhaps not be so apathetic about the reappearance of both.