Accusations of a Hate Crime Expose Tensions

An attack on four Asian-American men in Douglaston, Queens, that prosecutors are calling a hate crime has opened a breach in the unsteady truce between the neighborhood’s mostly white population and the prospering Chinese and Korean immigrants who have moved to the area in recent years, residents said yesterday.

”There’s an undercurrent of suspicion of the new immigrant — what are they doing, what are they building, what are they putting in that store?” said Susan Seinfeld, the district manager of Community Board 11, which includes Douglaston, Bayside and Little Neck, neighborhoods where the number of Asian residents has increased in the past 10 years. Still, Ms. Seinfeld said, ”it’s not been brought to that level ever before.”

Early Saturday, four New Yorkers of Chinese descent were attacked on Douglaston Parkway by two white men shouting racial slurs, according to the authorities. Two of the Chinese-Americans — Reynold Liang and John C. Lu, both 19 — were beaten, Mr. Liang with a steering wheel locking device. Two white men, Kevin M. Brown, 19, of Auburndale, and Paul A. Heavey, 20, of Little Neck, have been charged with assault and hate crimes.

Some residents of Douglaston and Bayside said the attack was an isolated event; others spoke of an undercurrent of animosity toward the Korean and Chinese residents.

Jennifer Kim, a teacher from Douglaston Manor, said she suspected that white residents talked about Asians behind their backs. But James Giogaia, ducking into a Bayside Starbucks where the menu was printed in Korean, said he had lived in the neighborhood for 24 years and had never seen a problem.

In the last five years, the commercial corridor along Northern Boulevard from Flushing to Douglaston has undergone a major transformation, with an influx of Korean restaurants, salons and markets.

Korean entrepreneurs ready to expand out of an increasingly crowded downtown Flushing found themselves unable to build west on Northern Boulevard because Chinese businesses had already staked out that ground, according to Pyong-Gap Min, a professor of sociology at Queens College. Instead, they went east, about as far as Bell Boulevard, razing and retrofitting older buildings along the way.

Members of earlier immigrant groups have taken notice. ”The entire strip of Northern Boulevard in the past four or five years went from German and Italian to Korean,” said a 24-year-old Italian-American man working at Ceriello Italian Fine Foods on Douglaston Parkway. He did not want to give his name.

”It definitely doesn’t shock me,” he said of the attack.

For years, the signs in Korean and Chinese that adorn new businesses have been a major irritant to white residents, with many complaining that they make them feel like outsiders. City Councilman Tony Avella, who represents the area, has introduced legislation to require store owners to include English translations on signs.

Still, many businesses have voluntarily added the translation, Dr. Min said, an indication that most immigrant business owners want to get along in their new neighborhoods.

Dr. Min, who is Korean, recalled instances of bias when he moved to Bayside two decades ago, including the placing of nails in the tires of an Asian friend’s car. ”Now it’s much better,” he said. ”All of my neighbors are Chinese. I am surrounded by Chinese. I feel very comfortable there.”

Indeed, the population of Douglaston, Little Neck and Bayside is now estimated to be about one-third Asian, Dr. Min said.

The other two Chinese-Americans who were with Mr. Lu and Mr. Liang, David Wu, 19, and Wing Chung Poon, escaped injury.

Mr. Heavey was released on $10,000 bail, while Mr. Brown remained in custody, a spokeswoman for the Correction Department said yesterday. According to the Queens district attorney’s office, Mr. Brown’s bail was set at $30,000 bond or $20,000 cash.

To Mr. Liang, a student from Douglaston, there was little question that racism was at play.

”They did it because I was Asian,” Mr. Liang told reporters at a news conference at the Flushing office of City Councilman John C. Liu. On the advice of their lawyers, neither he, Mr. Wu nor Mr. Lu would discuss details of the events leading up to the attack.

”I definitely don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Mr. Liang said. ”Queens is a nice area. It’s my home.”

Photo: In front, from left, John C. Lu, Reynold Liang and David Wu, three of four Chinese-Americans who were victims in what is being called a hate crime, yesterday at City Councilman John C. Liu’s Flushing office. In back, from left, Councilmen David Weprin and Liu, and State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. (Photo by Uli Seit for The New York Times)

Written by: Michelle o’Donnell; Sarah Garland contributed reporting for this article.
August 15, 2006

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