In a line that wrapped past the block, hundreds of New Yorkers waited anxiously to get their hands on canisters of pepper spray last weekend.
Michelle Alyssa Tran, the founder of “Soar Over Hate,” a New York City-based nonprofit committed to combating anti-Asian hate, tweeted on Sunday a video of the organization’s pepper spray giveaway at “Yu & Me Books” located in Chinatown. As seen in the video, hundreds of people, mainly Asian women, waited in a line that wrapped past the block.
“I hope this illustrates the daily fears that many are experiencing,” wrote Tran. “We gave out ~1000 [pepper] sprays to women who looked just like me looking to feel a bit safer.”
The event comes less than a week after a man in Yonkers, New York, made news for punching an elderly 67-year-old Asian woman’s face over 125 times. Tammel Esco, 42, was charged with attempted murder and committing a hate crime. The victim suffered brain bleeding, facial fractures and lacerations to the head and face.
Evelyn Yang, wife of former presidential candidate and politician Andrew Yang, also tweeted about the long line, posting a video she captioned: “This is the clearest sign people are living in fear.”
As Korean American actor Daniel Dae Kim noted in his retweet of Evelyn Yang’s post, purchasing pepper spray is illegal in many instances in the state of New York. While it is legal to carry “defense sprays,” pepper spray cannot be shipped, mailed or ordered to any city in New York. Instead it must be purchased from a licensed seller such as a “fully licensed firearms dealer or pharmacist.” Even then, each resident must be at least 18 years of age and is limited to two pocket-sized canisters per transaction.
While it is not always clear whether an attack is racially motivated, it is clear that many Asian Americans, and Asian American women in particular, are living in fear. The video of the long line for pepper spray reflects the angst many are experiencing in present times, when anti-Asian hate crimes continue to regularly make headlines.