On Sunday in Columbus Park in NYC’s Chinatown, several NYPD officers were filmed in a violent-looking arrest of an elderly Chinese musician. So far, the community is divided over whether the police behaved appropriately. Our Chinatown‘s Shirley Wu spoke with a witness who says:
[…] the police officers came into the park where the seniors were performing their music. There was one Chinese-speaking officer who spoke to Wu Yizuo, a 64-year-old organizer from Street Musical Club and told him there was a complaint about the music level.
The Chinese-speaking officer proceeded to ask Wu for a performance permit to use a microphone/amplifier but Wu did not have one. He was only able to produce a permit to not cause any obstruction in the park. He also started shouting and pointing and flailing his arms at the Chinese-speaing officer when the officer told him that his permit was unacceptable.
[…] The witness said the Chinese-speaking officer advised Wu not to use the microphone so that the noise level would not be an issue. Wu responded by saying that the park is full of hearing impaired seniors so the microphone is necessary.
According to the witness, Wu began to walk away and the Chinese-speaking officer followed him and tapped Wu on the shoulder. Wu turned around and then the struggle broke out between him and the Chinese-speaking officer.
"The man plays here in park all the time with no problem. Why does someone want to cause problems? Perhaps someone had to go to bed early?" said the witness.
Gothamist quotes Anda Wu, who shot the video:
I was walking by the park and I saw a crowd of elderly people screaming, ‘Let him go!’ My first thought was for my mom, who was in the park. I went over there to see if she was still there, and when I got there I saw the police arresting this man and pushing him against the tree. He was fighting back, but there were four cops. They threw him on the ground, and tried to put the handcuffs on him. All the elderly were yelling, ‘The police are hitting him!’
The video, as you can see above, is horrifying. Wu is on the ground with blood on his face, surrounded by officers who are threatening the surrounding crowd of seniors with mace and nightsticks. Some accounts say that Wu was bleeding after having fallen on the ground while arguing.
A Facebook event has been set up, to urge community residents to ask their representatives to demand an apology from NYPD; the wall posts illustrate the divide the community is feeling over the best way for weaponed officers to subdue a belligerent 64-year-old unlicensed flautist. Some want to avoid an "Al Sharpton moment," and others say this is part of a larger trend of gentrification and police negligence in Chinese neighborhoods.
For what it’s worth, I’ve written before about the unique struggles of historic immigrant neighborhoods of color like NYC’s Chinatown. Community members must deal both with the aftermath of whites-only policies like redlining, as well as language barriers and immigrant exploitation. In other words: systemic poverty, and all that comes with it. Residents of these neighborhoods are too often stuck in unsafe jobs with long hours, no sick days, and sub-legal pay, with unhealthy living conditions and few options for language or job-training classes. According to the 2000 Census, 35 percent of Manhattan Chinatown’s elderly live in poverty, along with 40 percent of its children; the Asian American Federation of New York reports that unemployment has only increased since 9/11 and the financial crisis.
So if this video looks familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it happen to Black communities, Native American communities, and Latino communities. Regardless of the motives or behavior of individual police officers, systemic poverty simply creates more situations in which police violence looks germane.
In the wake of Wu’s arrest, Chinatown community leaders are working with the NYPD to present a seminar on obtaining performance permits.
Thanks to reader Adriel Luis for the tip.