A young Brooklyn man who allegedly stabbed and critically wounded a 36-year-old Asian man on Thursday night in Manhattan’s Chinatown has not been charged with a hate crime, after a confusing set of announcements from the New York City Police Department. Cops initially indicated that they did not suspect the attack was a hate crime on Thursday. The NYPD then appeared to reverse course and said there would be hate crime charges on Friday, but the Manhattan DA’s office didn’t file any on Saturday.
The victim, who has not been identified, was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition following the attack, and was still hospitalized in critical condition on Saturday. Surgeons removed his kidney and adrenal gland in order to save his life.
The attack is the latest in a string of unprovoked attacks on Asian New Yorkers over the past year, and came two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders called attention to the rise in reported hate crimes against Asians amid the COVID-19 pandemic and vowed to do more to protect the community, which makes up roughly 16 percent of the city’s population. There were a record 27 reported bias attacks against Asian residents in the city last year, a ninefold increase from 2019 — and both city officials and community advocates have warned that most hate crimes continue to go unreported. Eighteen of the cases led to arrests.
As the Daily News reports, police had originally said that Thursday night’s attack was not being investigated as a hate crime, then changed course on Friday:
Cops initially said there was no indication of bias in the 6:20 p.m. Thursday stabbing, but later upgraded charges against Salman Muflihi, 23, to attempted murder as a hate crime and assault as a hate crime. Muflihi, from Brooklyn, said nothing to the 36-year-old victim as he stabbed him from behind with the 8-inch blade by the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse.
Moments later he confessed his crime to security outside the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Hogan Place, saying, “I just stabbed someone. Where are the police at?” said sources. Muflihi told cops that he lunged because he didn’t like the way the victim looked at him. Investigators believe he was emotionally disturbed, sources said.
Gothamist adds that according to New York State assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, “the [upgraded charges] came as a result of Muflihi’s prior convictions, which included an attack on an Asian American man last month.”
Then on Saturday, the DA’s office apparently concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue hate crime charges, per PIX11 News:
[The suspect] was initially arrested on charges including attempted criminally negligent homicide, criminal possession of a weapon, assault, and possession of a fake ID, police said. The DA’s office has charged him with attempted murder and multiple counts of assault, but they are not recommending hate crime charges, with ADA Adam Johnson saying Muflihi stabbed his victim “for no reason at all.”
“We are continuing to investigate and may bring additional charges if warranted,” the DA’s office told PIX11 News Saturday.
Last week, video footage of an unprovoked assault against a 52-year-old Asian woman on February 16 in Queens went viral on social media, sparking nationwide outrage. The woman’s daughter said the attack was racially motivated, but the suspect arrested for the assault was not charged with a hate crime. It was one of four attacks on Asian women in the city just that day.
Such incidents, when they are reported, are only investigated as hate crimes when the attacker uses a slur, has a history of such behavior, or admits they targeted their victim because of their race, ethnicity, or identity.
An analysis by Stop AAPI Hate, a national organization that tracks anti-Asian hate and discrimination, estimates that there have been more than 2,800 anti-Asian incidents nationwide — mostly in California and New York — amid the pandemic. Here in New York, the spike in incidents targeting Asians prompted the formation of the NYPD’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force last August, aimed at increasing cooperation — and improving the strained relationship — between the police and the the city’s Asian community. WNYC highlighted that tension last week:
“I think Asians are easy targets,” said Chris Kwok, a board member of the Asian American Federation, an advocacy group for Asian communities. “I think people feel like they won’t fight back. People feel ‘Oh, the police won’t report. And maybe Asians won’t report.’” …
“One hundred percent that is part of the problem,” said [Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo, who heads the task force] in an interview with Gothamist/WNYC on Friday. “I spoke to people who rob Asian Americans and they’ll tell you why they target Asian Americans. It’s not because they’re Asian. They perceive them to be soft targets. They carry cash. They won’t report it. It’s less likely that they’ll identify them, and they put up the least amount of resistance.”
On Monday, community leaders in Queens assembled to condemn bias attacks and highlight the heightened fears many in the Asian community have felt about being targeted. Mayor de Blasio, Congresswoman Grace Meng, and other city officials did the same on Tuesday, announcing the launch of a public-awareness campaign and new city website to encourage reporting, and speaking out against, anti-Asian attacks and discrimination. “We have already seen our members and small businesses fight the pandemic of anti-Asian hatred,” Meng said, “and these racist attacks have been outrageous, unconscionable, disgusting, and it must end.”
There was also a public rally in Manhattan on Saturday responding to the attacks, per NBC New York:
Hundreds of people rallied at Foley Square on Saturday to denounce the uptick in attacks on people of Asian decent, not far from the Asian man was critically stabbed Thursday.
“It’s really been terrifying for our community,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation[.] “What is happening is not right.”
Federal, state and local politicians at the rally, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and state Attorney General Letitia James, also condemned violence against men and women of Asian descent.
This post has been updated throughout to include additional developments.