May 11, 2021 By Ryan Songalia
Several elected officials gathered at a Rego Park playground Monday to show support for an Asian-American teen who was the victim of a hate crime and to promote legislation that aims to rehabilitate the perpetrators of such attacks.
The officials held a press conference at Real Good Playground on 99th Street to condemn a recent attack, where 15-year-old Leo Cai was assaulted by five teenagers and called anti-Asian slurs. Three teens have been arrested.
“These perpetrators are being charged and will, I hope, be held accountable for their actions,” said State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, who is sponsoring legislation that would mandate counseling and education for those convicted of hate crimes.
Stavisky, whose district includes Flushing and Elmhurst, said at the the press conference that she hopes the legislation will prevent future hate crimes.
“As legislators we need to be doing more to prevent these acts from occurring and reoccurring. It is not enough to simply punish attackers after their crimes,” said Stavisky. “The ‘fear of the other’ is a tool that has been used to drive division within communities for centuries.”
The bill passed the state assembly on Monday. It has been sent to the State Senate and has been referred to the Codes Committee.
Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi of Forest Hills, who co-sponsored the bill in the lower chamber, says the wave of anti-Asian hate crimes has been unacceptable.
“Education, understanding, and standing together to call out hate whenever it occurs are how we will combat this blatant racism,” said Hevesi, who spoke at the press conference.
Congresswoman Grace Meng, who introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to combat anti-Asian hate crimes at the national level, praised Stavisky and Manhattan Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright who were the prime sponsors of the bill.
“There are several components to combatting the ongoing hate and violence against Asian Americans, and that includes counseling and education, among other resources,” Meng said.
Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, who represents the area and was at the press conference, said that incarceration alone won’t stop a person convicted of a hate crime from harboring racist sentiments.
“Combining mandatory counseling with whatever penalty the court deems appropriate is truly the only hope for changing the behavior of a perpetrator of a hate crime,” Koslowitz said.
There were 29 hate crimes reported against Asian Americans in New York City in 2020, up from just three in 2019, according to the NYPD.
Cai and his mother praised the lawmakers for the legislation and said that the community needs to work together to prevent bias attacks.
“Let’s work together to eliminate prejudice and hatred in our hearts and create a friendly and just society for our next generation,” said Miaoqing Lu, Cai’s mother.
“We must learn to forgive, forgive ourselves, and forgive those who hurt us. Help them grow, which also helps us grow ourselves,” Cai said.