1640 Erie Boulevard, East Syracuse. For some, it’s the parking lot of Hong Kong Takeout, a symbol of our country’s love of Chinese food. For others, it’s across the street from Asian Food Market, a store where many families buy their weekly groceries. But for delivery worker Zeqiang Chen, this was the spot where he was beaten, almost to death, his body left slumped outside until the police found him in the morning of March 2nd, 2021.
According to a GoFundMe page organized by Angie Cheung, Zeqiang Chen has suffered from serious head trauma. His nerves were damaged so severely that the right side of his body is paralyzed. His fingers were frostbitten to the point of turning completely black, meaning that a few of his fingers will have to be amputated. Cheung has updated the page regularly, providing insight about the horrific attack that put a life at serious risk.
Chen is currently immobile and unable to speak. The Syracuse Police Department and Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office are waiting for him to regain full consciousness to further investigate this attack. But his journey to recovery is long. Until he can tell his story, we must speak up for him and other victims of the same crime. Hate.
Surveillance cameras were not able to detect the perpetrator(s) of Chen’s beating, but when the police found Chen laying in the parking lot, they also found his phone and wallet, neither of which was stolen. Local officials may choose to wait until Chen speaks, but this is the same narrative the Asian American community has been hearing too many times.
Asian Americans have been a targeted minority throughout the history of our country, yet the discrimination has largely been ignored. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, hate against Asian Americans spiraled as people began to use the pandemic as an avenue in which to direct their racist anger. The country saw growing numbers of hate crimes directed at Asian Americans.
Even though Oxford Languages defines a hate crime as “a crime, typically one involving violence, that is motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds,” many of these reported incidents have been dismissed. Based on the current legal system, it is difficult to prosecute incidents as hate crimes. On the grounds of insufficient evidence to demonstrate a racist motive, victims across our country are suffering without justice.
The cause of this crime may remain unclear in police files, but there are clues that suggest a specific intention. Chen is an Asian American delivering to Asian owned businesses and was attacked in the parking lot of an Asian restaurant located across the street from an Asian American grocery store. No matter who the attackers were, they beat Chen not for a phone, not for his money, but out of strong hatred. Chen is from New York City, a stranger to the area. He was taking a rest break in his own vehicle. Other than Chen’s race, what else could have been the motive?
Even when discrimination against Asian Americans was ignored in the past, we no longer have the option to turn away from this issue. We no longer have the option to dismiss this when the entire country is seeing thousands of hate crimes. We no longer have the option to turn away when elderly members of the Asian American community are being shoved to the ground, left to die in the hospital. We no longer have the option to ignore the severity of the issue when Asian Americans are being spat on, coughed at, beaten, stabbed, set on fire, and slashed in the face. We can no longer pretend like this is an issue occurring elsewhere in the country when it occurs right in our own backyard. Chen’s story proves that the crisis is only spreading, and the problems we have long ignored are threatening the livelihood of someone right on Erie Boulevard, right on a street in our community.
As Chen lies in the intensive care unit, the Asian American community grieves yet another pain. One Asian American life in our community is at stake, and that is one life too many. Like thousands of other reports, this is a hate crime, and we cannot allow it to be dismissed.