Volume 81, Number 1 | June 2 - 8, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Chinatown senior’s arrest has strained relations with police

By Aidan Gardiner

The recent arrest of an elderly man that left him bloodied has many up in arms, and highlights what some say is a currently frayed relationship between the New York Police Department and the Chinatown community.

On May 8, police responded to noise complaints about loud music being played in Columbus Park, where they found several senior citizens of the Street Musical Club playing loudly amplified music without a sound permit. According to witnesses, police first told the group to stop playing their music, but the group refused.

Exactly what happened during the next moments remains unclear, but the incident quickly escalated. Police pressed an elderly man named Yi Zhuo Wu to the ground as a crowd shouted at the officers. Moments later, an officer emerged from the huddle to visibly shake a small can of Mace in the faces of those surrounding him. When the threat of Mace failed to pacify the crowd, he telescoped out his collapsible nightstick with an audible clap.

Wu has been charged with resisting arrest and unreasonable noise in the park. His next court date is Nov. 7.

Video of the arrest quickly spread on the Internet, sparking even more outrage. On May 24, Councilmember Margaret Chin denounced the incident, laying the blame for the escalation on both the police and musicians.

“The situation that occurred in Columbus Park is disheartening on many levels,” she wrote in her statement. “We must promote better understanding and closer ties between our local police precincts and the members of our community.”

At a May 25 meeting between Fifth Precinct representatives and the Chinatown community, many came with questions about the incident but few received answers.

“It was frustrating because the response repeatedly from the officers at the meeting was, ‘We can’t talk about it,’” said Esther Wang, a chief organizer for the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence. The fracas is currently being investigated by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, precluding any officers from speaking about it publicly.

CAAAV has been one of the primary social justice organizations rallying around this incident. About a week after the Columbus Park incident, the organization held a senior leadership meeting that quickly became an outpouring of animosity.

“It was attended by mostly adult immigrant residents of the community,” Wang said. “We didn’t necessarily expect this, but they shared a lot of their own personal stories about how they’ve been harassed by the cops.”

Wang said that a man related how he was detained by the police, processed through Central Booking, kept there for a night, only to be released once the police realized they had seized the wrong person.

Various community leaders at many levels have been meeting about this occurrence. CAAAV representatives plan to meet with Chin sometime next week to discuss the Columbus Park incident and other issues.

“A lot of people have the feeling that, ‘This is the way that it is. What can we do?’” Wang added. “That’s what we’re trying to change.”

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