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Sikh community shaken again in Richmond Hill

Woman kidnapped and robbed, yet another press conference

A 51-year-old Sikh woman was thrown in a van, rendered unconscious, and robbed of thousands of dollars of jewelry last week outside a popular place of worship in South Richmond Hill.

The attack marks the fourth incident against the local Sikh community within the past few weeks, with the latest victim hearing the words “mom” before being kidnapped and robbed just steps from a gurdwara.

Last month, a 19-year-old Brooklyn man was charged in a spree of hate attacks, and is accused of targeting three men of the Sikh community. A second man, a 20-year-old from Brooklyn, was also charged in connection in one of the attacks. If convicted, both could face 25 years to life in prison.

The latest press conference to denounce the attacks in the Southeast Queens neighborhood came from gubernatorial candidate Rep. Tom Suozzi, and later at Queens Borough Hall led by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

Speaking outside of the Gurdwara Sikh Temple last week, Suozzi and community leaders called for peace just steps away from where the latest attack took place.

“Not only has the Sikh community been attacked, but it has been some of our most vulnerable members,” said Tejkaren Kaur Bains, a licensed state attorney from Long Island. “They’ve been beaten up while they have come here to worship.”

The self-proclaimed “common sense” democratic candidate for Governor says it will take someone like himself to change state laws pertaining to bail reform. He also touted that he was one of the first state politicians to hire a turban-wearing Sikh to his office.

“My Sikh brothers and sisters are easily recognized because they’re wearing turbans,” Suozzi said. “The fact that people can’t feel safe in their neighborhoods is just wrong.”

Suozzi hinted at negative rhetoric that was seen in the previous presidential administration, where it “became common for people to attack each other based upon their differences,” he said. Suozzi also cited the latest mass shooting which took the lives of 10 in Buffalo, calling it a “racist massacre.”

“We have to remember the basic fundamental American principle that all men and women are created equal,” Suozzi said.

Tejinder Singh, a former attorney at The Legal Aid Society of New York, said that law enforcement and the district attorney’s office eventually listened to the community in the past when some collective noise was made.

He added that police come across people from the community and frequently don’t take them seriously, “because they don’t look like people who can communicate effectively in English,” Singh said.

“Our community has to get politically involved,” Singh pleaded.

Pressed on his “fund the police” stance, Suozzi said that elected officials are needed to enforce laws, pointing to his 15-point plan to tackle crime.

“I don’t think it’s that they don’t take it seriously,” Suozzi said. “I think it’s that we have to fund the police to make people feel safe, and that we as a community need to bring attention to those crimes that we want to see enforced.”

Japneet Singh, a democratic candidate for the 15th State Senate District, said that he hopes to soon be working towards an actual plan, rather than just keep talking about a solution.

“We’re sick and tired of press conferences,” Singh said. “However, we have seen no action. We are not doing proper jobs in our city, our state and our country.”

“One misconception that a lot of people have is that immigrant communities don’t want laws and don’t want rules. We left our respective countries to escape lawlessness. For us to say we don’t want laws here in the city of New York, the most diverse city, that’s absurd,” Singh said. “I’ve been here since the age of 8, and it’s never been this bad.”

Vigil honors slain food deliveryman Zhiwen Yan

Last week, the Forest Hills community came together for a candlelight vigil in front of Great Wall Chinese Restaurant to honor Zhiwen Yan, a food delivery worker who was killed at the end of April.

Yan, who lived in Middle Village, was fatally shot on the night of April 30 while riding his scooter on his way to deliver food in Forest Hills.

He was 45 years old, and leaves behind a wife and three children.

Ethan Felder and Donghui Zang organized a candlelight vigil to honor the life and legacy of Zhiwen Yan.

“He was a kind and beautiful soul. And to think how he did everything right in life as an immigrant: he worked three jobs and he leaves three children behind. He epitomizes what we all strive for as Americans,” said Ethan Felder, a labor lawyer and candidate running for NYS Assembly District 28, who co-organized the vigil. “The fact that he had that all taken away two weeks ago… it really strikes at the heart of who we are. That is why we had to memorialize his life and what happened to him and his family, and to our community.”

Zhiwen Yan’s wife, Kunying Zhao, was comforted by the community during her time of grief, and spoke out about how she feels and what the city should be doing to help.

“New York City, you owe me a life. You owe me a husband. You owe an explanation to the Chinese community,” she said through a translator.

She emphasized that Yan and his coworkers had been threatened for months prior to his death, and said that police could have taken protective measures to prevent the worst from happening.

“He should have been able to watch his children growing up, but everything ended,” she continued. “We want New York City to give us an explanation.”

Kai Yang, manager of Great Wall, shared a powerful speech with attendees, demanding justice for his former employee.

Yan was a beloved member of the community, best known for his signature greeting, “Hello, my friend.”

Several residents took turns with the microphone to share their stories about him.

“I knew Mr. Yan for over 25 years. He was the best delivery guy you can ever ask for,” one resident, Ariel, said.
“If you ordered from Great Wall when he was alive, you got your food in 15 minutes or less — no matter how far you lived, or how much food you ordered,” he continued. “I’m so heartbroken.”

“This is a terrible loss to the entire community. He reached so many different people, and I think that just goes to show by how many people showed up to the vigil,” another resident, Michael, said.

“I have met many people over the past several days on my walk to Walgreens, saying they would see him on his scooter, always working,” he added. “He was the hardest working man I know in the neighborhood.”

Kai Yang, the manager of Great Wall who worked with Yan for more than 10 years, shared a powerful speech with attendees, demanding justice for his former employee.

“He was taking care of the neighborhood, delivering to the neighbors who needed food. And then without any notice, that guy came out and shot him. His blood is spilled at the crosswalk of the streets in this neighborhood,” Yang said through a translator.

“This is an insult to the city, and something we need to look into and take care of,” he continued. “My workers and I are still working in fear. We are in fear for our own lives and safety working here every day.”

He addressed the racism against Asian Americans that came out of the pandemic, which has affected the success of his business, and resulted in his workers being verbally assaulted with racial slurs.

Community members from all walks of life stood beside Yan’s wife to support her

“We deserve safety. We deserve peace so we can make our living and we can make this city somewhere worth living,” he said.
Donghui Zang, a candidate for District Leader of the 28th Assembly District, said that despite Yan’s death taking place nearly three weeks ago, his family has still not secured a place to bury him.

He said that he and the community are doing what they can to help them with this process, along with help from Uber Eats, where he also worked, and other Asian community leaders and elected officials.

“Saying ‘stop Asian hate’ is not enough. You need to prosecute and charge the criminals to the maximum extent of the law,” Zang said. “The penalty is too low so it doesn’t scare off the people who commit crimes: murder, robberies, and shootings in the subways. It’s still not enough, and we have to revise the law so people can feel safe and restore the peace.”

Spree of hate attacks target Sikh Community in Queens

A Brooklyn man is facing charges related to a string of hate crimes against the Sikh community in Richmond Hill.

Vernon Douglas, 19, has been hit with first and second degree robbery charges as hate crimes, as well as a slew of assault and aggravated harassment charges. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

A second man, Hezekiah Coleman, 20, has also been charged with Douglas in connection with one of the attacks. The Queens resident could face up to 25 years in prison

The first attack took place In the early hours of Sunday, April 3, near the the intersection of 95th Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

The victim, 70-year-old Nirmal Singh, was punched several times in the face and head, leaving his turban and clothes soaked in his own blood.

Elected officials initially denounced the attack at a community peace rally, held at the corner renamed for the thriving Indian community in the surrounding Southeast Queens neighborhoods, “Little Punjab.”

Just nine days later, on the same block, a second 45-year-old Sikh man was attacked with a stick and robbed of $300.

Minutes later, a third 58-year-old Sikh man was also assaulted and robbed of $200 by the same shirtless Brooklyn teenager.

Douglas was arraigned on Saturday, April 16, before Queens Criminal Court Judge Anthony Battisti on a 13-count criminal complaint. Coleman was arraigned on Wednesday, April 13 before Judge Marty Lentz on a five-count complaint.

“This defendant is accused of targeting three men, all members of the Sikh community who wore turbans at the time of the attacks,” District Attorney Katz said. “We will not tolerate beatings motivated by hate in the borough of Queens – the most diverse county in the world. Our diversity is our strength and no acts of violence will undermine who we are. This defendant, along with his co-defendant, will be held to account for the charges of which they are accused.”

Elected officials were outspoken and condemned the attacks, including Councilwoman Joann Ariola who called on Mayor Eric Adams to “empower the NYPD and our justice system”, as well as calling on fellow City Council members to “wake up”.

New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar condemned the first of what would be a trio of attacks, saying “As the first Punjabi American ever elected to New York State office, I want Nirmal Singh and all members of our community to know that I am here for you. An attack on any Sikh-American is an attack on all Americans.”

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