NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The NYPD is beefing up its efforts to combat a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. The department is adding more resources — and manpower.
Part of the heightened presence includes a group of undercover officers — a robust number of them, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported Thursday.READ MORE: With Hate Crimes On Rise, Residents In Some Communities Banding Together To Keep Asian New Yorkers Safe
You won’t know they’re officers, but the Police Department promises they’ll be here, blending into Asian communities like Chinatown.
Essentially, they will be part of a new group of Asian undercovers.
“You better think twice, whether you’re in a grocery store, whether you’re walking down the street, or whether you’re on a train platform, and shame on you if you’re targeting somebody specifically because of how they look,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said.
It’s all part of the NYPD’s latest efforts to combat a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. There have been 26 so far this year compared to zero for the same period last year.
“We had an increase in corona-related hate last year, but I don’t think there’s any question, at least to me, that there’s instances of under-reporting of crime,” Shea said.
The undercovers are separate from the Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Task Force, which is also adding two more detectives. One of them is Danny Zhang, who immigrated from China when he was 11 years old.
“Any time you hear about these cases out there, I think about my grandparents. My parents. They could be one of the victims. So, it hits home,” Zhang said.
Watch Andrea Grymes’ report —
The task force also has a new boss, Tommy Ng, who is known as the first commanding officer to hold community meetings in Chinese. He replaces Stewart Loo, who planned to retire last year but postponed to start the task force.
“I came to this country from Hong Kong when I was 16 in 1988,” Ng said. “We’re here to help. I just want to make sure that we get the message out.”
In addition, the NYPD is increasing its outreach, including giving out pamphlets with facts about hate crimes and how to report them.
More language options are also being added for 911.
“We’re asking that anyone who calls 911 and does not speak English, they only need to know and say one word — the English word that identifies the language they speak,” said Deputy Inspector Jessica Corey, commanding officer of the hate crime task force.
Police said they’re going to step up efforts to determine if a suspect was motivated by race, ethnicity or other characteristics that define a hate crime — motives that can be hard to prove.
“If it is an unprovoked assault, it will be investigated. It will be investigated by the Hate Crimes Task Force because they’re the experts,” Incoming Chief of Department Rodney Harrison said.
The NYPD said it has made several arrests lately, including a homeless man who allegedly punched an Asian woman in the East Village on Sunday. He was arrested Monday evening and arraigned on hate crime charges.
By Tuesday afternoon, CBS2 cameras happened to see him walking in Lower Manhattan. The district attorney’s office says it asked for bail, but the judge ordered a supervised release instead.
‘THERE’S NO WAY TO TELL WHO IS GOING TO ATTACK YOU’
“I don’t feel safe anymore. I’m very aware that I might be the target,” Dr. Wen Li-Cavallo, a dentist in Chinatown, told CBS2’s John Dias.READ MORE: Head Of NYPD's Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Task Force Urges Victims To Report Incidents: 'We Can Come Up With A Solution'
Dr. Li-Cavallo hasn’t taken a single subway ride in over a year.
“There’s no way to tell who is going to attack you,” she said.
So she takes an Uber every morning from Brooklyn to her office in Chinatown, knowing reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have been spiking across the city at an alarming rate.
“I definitely have heard that people put sanitizer on them, spit on them and say a lot of negative connotations,” she said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, she, too, was the victim of what she called a borderline hate crime.
“They were coughing at me, I was wearing a mask,” she said. “People try to find a scapegoat for the situation, try to release their anger.”
Watch John Dias’ report —
Many Dias spoke with said it’s not just physical attacks that hurt, but rhetoric, too. Often, these go unreported.
“They were like, ‘Why doesn’t your dog have a mask on? Don’t eat your dogs,'” said Jayson Chin, of Chinatown. “Frankly, I’m tired of it.”
“I speak to a lot of my victims,” NYPD Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo told CBS2. “What they tell me is, ‘I’m being attacked, I’m verbally being assaulted, and the worst thing is that there’s so many people around and they’re not doing anything.”
Thursday, Assemblymember Mathlyde Frontus rallied in support of Brooklyn’s Asian-American community.
“We know that hate begets more hate,” she said.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman spoke to an MTA bus driver who stopped an assault in action but then became the victim of a hate crime himself.
“I figured I gotta get involved because these are my people,” Tommy Lau said.
Lau has been an MTA bus driver for 22 years. He was walking around Bensonhurst on his break Tuesday morning when he noticed a man trying to grab groceries from an elderly Asian couple.
“I can’t take this when people just think they can get away by attacking elderly people. God forbid it was my mom,” he said.
So Lau intervened.
“I tell him, ‘What’s up?’ Next thing I know, he spat in my face,” he said. “He struck me with his right hand to my left temple really hard.”
Lau says the man called him an Asian slur and ran away. The verbal hate, he says, is all too familiar growing up in Brooklyn.
“It’s nothing new. It’s been around since… decades,” he said.
Twenty-six-year-old Donovan Lawson was arrested for attacking Lau. He’s facing charges that include assault as a hate crime.MORE NEWS: Victim Of Anti-Asian Assault Turns Pain Into Art With Proceeds Benefitting Local Nonprofit
CBS2’s John Dias and Ali Bauman contributed to this report