Jin Ooi didn’t think a volunteer patrol group in Flushing, Queens would do much to stop the rise of hate crimes against Asian-Americans — until he became a target.
Ooi, 34, decided to join a civilian watch organization after attending a March 21 rally outside the Flushing library — five days after six Asian-American spa workers were killed in a mass shooting in the Atlanta area.
At the rally he met Teresa Ting, a 29-year-old actress who a month earlier formed a group called Main Street Patrol in response to the assault of an elderly Chinese woman in the neighborhood. The group now has around 60 members — including some retired cops — who volunteer on weekends to look out for their neighbors.
“We are there to be witnesses, to report crimes and let the cops do their jobs from there on,” said Ting. “It’s frightening to me that someone can just harm the elderly in our communities.”
The NYPD so far this year has recorded 33 hate crimes against Asian-Americans around the city, two of them motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic — triple the 11 hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the same period last year, all of which cops said were related to the pandemic.
Ooi didn’t realize the impact the patrol group would have.
“I felt it was good that there was that kind of presence to deter these attacks, but I didn’t think this patrol would be actively deterring a hate crime,” Ooi said.
His mind changed after he joined a neighborhood patrol hours after the rally.
As Ooi and other volunteers patrolled the area near the rally site, Ooi said he saw two men who appeared to be plotting an attack.
“One of them said, ‘I’m going to hit that guy over the head with this,’” Oii charged. “I assume he’s talking about hitting this elderly man sitting on the steps because he’s pointing at him with this black bag that looks to have a bottle in it and gesturing to his back.”
The men began heckling Asian-American passersby, using slurs like “ching chong,” before moving toward the elderly man, Ooi said.
The patrol group sprung into action, forming a triangle around the pair of bigots, with one member stepping in to shield the elderly Asian man sitting on the steps. The move worked, and the men left.
But Ooi and a woman who was a Main Street Patrol volunteer followed the pair.
When the woman volunteer began videotaping the men on her cellphone, one of the men went “from zero to 100,” Ooi said. The irate racist began threatening the woman, and five other volunteers rushed to her defense.
“I’m going to hurt somebody,” Ooi said the man snarled. “I’m going to f-ck somebody up.”
Ooi said he then followed the men to an apartment building on Kissena Blvd. near 41st Ave., and recorded them through the front door window after they went inside.
“One of the Main Street Patrol instructions is to document any events happening,” said Ooi. “They come back out once they notice I’m recording. One of them says, ‘Why are you recording me, ching?’”
The man slapped the Samsung Note cellphone out of Ooi’s hand, causing it to smash against the ground. Police last week released video of the confrontation and said the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force was investigating.
“After seeing all this happen under my nose in broad daylight and knowing there were more racially motivated incidents that day and that these guys are still at large, it (the patrol group) is definitely necessary,” said Ooi. “This wasn’t just like a little prank or whatever. These people are threatening and doing actions that can kill somebody.”
The pandemic has correlated with a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and Ooi lamented that national figures, including former President Donald Trump, dubbed the disease the “China virus.”
“People are looking for a release to their rage and suffering and they want to blame somebody and take it out on someone but targeting us makes no sense,” said Ooi. “I just want to keep people safe and aware that there are these dangers. We have to stop the bleeding first, both metaphorically and literally.”