By CBSNewYork Team

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An attack on a 7-Eleven worker is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

The victim was punched in the face and called an anti-Asian slur, CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported Sunday.

The incident happened at around 5:30 a.m. on Saturday inside the store at the corner of West 39th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

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Police say a 27-year-old Asian employee noticed a man was attempting to steal merchandise from the store. He stepped in to stop him and was punched in the face.

During the assault, police say the male suspect yelled out an anti-Asian slur at the employee.

Officers were back on the scene on Sunday night after employees reported the suspect had returned and stared them down before eventually leaving.

The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is now searching for that suspect.

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People who live and work in the neighborhood said they are horrified by what happened.

“It’s super disgusting. No one deserves for them to be punched and have slurs said against them. Sometimes just walking around the streets I’m scared for my safety,” Erick Scholoff said.

“It’s upsetting that it’s everywhere. Every single day we’re seeing new cases coming up here in New York City and something needs to be done right now,” another person said.

Earlier Sunday, a rally against anti-Asian hate took place in Foley Square, with protestors then marching across the Brooklyn Bridge.

“We choose to make America our home and we do love here. Stop calling us ‘you Asians.’ Stop calling us ‘you Chinese.’ We are all Americans! We are the same!” one woman said to cheers. “If you look around we are in your communities. We’re your colleagues. We’re your friends. We’re your families, and what do we get? We get hate. We get hurt.”

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This latest incident comes amid an increase in anti-Asian attacks across the country and here at home.

Police say as of March 28, there have been 33 anti-Asian hate crime victims in New York City, compared to 11 during the same period last year. The incidents have been disturbing to so many New Yorkers.

“It’s a tragedy because I think nobody should be living in fear and as Asians, ourselves, I can personally attest to walking on the streets these days and it adds to an extra level of anxiety that I haven’t felt before and I felt like that’s not just the feeling that anyone deserves in this country,” said Siqi Zhao, who lives in the area.

“I think I’m a bit numb. I’m not even surprised when said that because that corner always has that issue,” Sherry He added.

As for the victim, he suffered bruising and a cut to his eye. Anyone with information on the attack is asked to call the NYPD.

CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report

CBSNewYork Team