In the wake of racist subway ads and widespread cultural violence in the city, residents gathered to mourn the loss of Sunando Sen, an Indian immigrant living in Queens who became the most recent victim of hate violence in the borough when he was shoved to the 7 train’s tracks and killed because of ethnicity last December.
His death and the death of many other victims of hate crimes directed towards people of Middle Eastern dissent in Brooklyn and Queens over the last several months was the focus of a vigil and protest from the neighborhood’s Islamic, Muslim and Hindu communities last Tuesday in Jackson Heights.
Imam Aiyub Abdul-Baqui, a member of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York and advocate for racial equality, joined the leaders of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), councilmen Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, and hundreds of concerned community members for a push to strengthen the community and call for the government’s support.
“Too often we have seen too many cases of increased violence against Muslims and Southeast Asians,” Abdul-Baqui said. “It seems to be on the rise and it is a time for people to take action.”
They were not only there to mourn the loss of Sen, but the number of other recent victims of racial violence, including the November attack of Afghani Bashir Mohummad, 59, outside of a Mosque in Flushing; the recent serial murders of three Brooklyn shop owners, Rahmatollah Vahidipour, 78, Mohamed Gebeli, 65, and Isaac Kadare, 59; and the beating and stabbing of 72-year-old Ali Akmal after being asked whether he was Hindu or Muslim.
“I would like to have an investigation into the reason, as well as the financing of these racist groups which are financing these ads on the city subway,” he said of the anti-Jihad subway posters posted in the Times Square Subway terminals last September. “People have to learn how to coexist.”
Muneer Awad, executive director of the Council on American – Islamic Relations (CAIR), a cosponsor of the event, was also there to encourage a stand on these issues from the members the ethnically diverse communities of New York.
“Community members and family members are here because they are concerned about a number of inconsistencies with respect to the actions of our policy makers and the livelihoods of this city’s residents,” Awad told the crowd.
Awad stood with members of Jews Against Islamaphobia, the Interfaith Center of New York and others as they sought policy change and support from city representatives.
“It is impossible for elected officials and institutions to claim that we want to have a welcoming open New York for all communities, while at the same time supporting policies that demonize and marginalize,” he said.
Van Bramer was there to assure his constituents that they will have the support of their elected officials on their side.
“I know there are a lot of folks that were frightened by what happened to Sunando Sen, but the truth is, hatred and bigotry goes beyond what happened that night in Sunnyside,” said Van Bramer. “It happens all too frequently in this, the most diverse city, the most diverse county and the one we love and we celebrate every single day.”
As an openly gay elected official and longtime activist for racial and gender equality, Van Bramer assured residents that they are not alone in this fight.
“Whenever hatred and bigotry rears its ugly head, it is important that we speak out as elected officials, as community members and I will join you every step of the way,” he said. “It’s absolutely so important that every time an incident happens that we stand up and speak out.
“The worst thing we can do is be silent,” he said.