Diocesan News

Flushing’s Main Street Patrol Aims to De-Escalate Anti-Asian Attacks

FLUSHING — A young man recently was seen taunting an elderly man of Asian heritage in downtown Flushing, Queens, raising concerns among bystanders that another hate crime was about to happen.

But before the incident could escalate, another young man walked between the man and the rowdy teen. The hooligan chose to end the haranguing and retreated.

The intervening man wasn’t just a bystander but also a member of the newly-formed Main Street Patrol. The more than 60 volunteers wear purple surgical masks as they walk the streets of Flushing, Queens, watching for trouble.

The incident above was described by Teresa Ting, an actress from Elmhurst, who organized Main Street Patrol in response to the recent anti-Asian violence, much of it inflicted on women and the elderly.

The final straw was the Feb. 16 attack on Roosevelt Avenue, in downtown Flushing, when a man shoved a Chinese woman in her 50s into a row of newsstands. She needed 10 stitches to close a cut to her head.

“Just seeing that was really scary,” Ting said of the Feb. 16 attack, which was caught on video. “It could literally happen to my mom if she had been in the wrong place, wrong time.

Members of Main Street Patrol use technology to identify attacks on the Asian community of Flushing, Queens and report them to police in real-time. For example, the smartphone app, Zello, provides walkie-talkie communications with the patrol’s dispatcher. The group also trains how to de-escalate an attack without becoming physically involved. (Photo: Courtesy of Main Street Patrol)

“I’m from Elmhurst, but I basically grew up in Flushing. My dad worked there. I did all my after-school activities there. So I was always a part of Flushing.

“It just really hit close to home.”

The incident got extensive news coverage, and actress Olivia Munn led a viral campaign of outrage on social media. Police got a flurry of tips and arrested a suspect two days later.

Ting joined in the social media furor, but she felt that was not enough.

“I heard about the patrol groups and the chaperones in California,” Ting said. “They were having a bigger spike in their hate crimes. And so I thought, ‘You know what? I can totally just gather some friends.

“I wasn’t trying to start an organization. I just wanted to contribute whatever free time I had to just being a better civilian and just keeping an eye out on the elders.”

But an organization, Main Street Patrol, did evolve as Ting’s friends responded to her invitations. Soon, a lot of her friends from junior high and high school, people she hadn’t talked to in years, joined the patrol.

They act as the eyes, ears, and even mouths of the community.

That is important, said Ting, because of the so-called “bystander effect” in which people watch someone else under attack but do nothing. This phenomenon intrigues Ting, who has a psychology degree from New York University.

“I really noticed from the videos of the attacks this ‘bystander effect,’” Ting said. “With my background in psychology, I was very hyper-aware of this. And so I knew I wanted to do something about that. I was doing some Google searches and some YouTube searches, and I couldn’t really find too much material on this.”

The patrol’s strategies and techniques are based on recommendations from ihollaback.org. This free resource trains people how to safely intervene if they ever become bystanders to a hate crime taking place.

Included is the “Five D’s Method”: distract, delegate, document, delay, and direct.

“Distract” is trying to draw attention away from the target. “Delegate” is directing someone to call the police. “Document” refers to getting evidence, like a cell phone video or pictures. “Delay” means checking back on the victim after the incident.

The last is “Direct,” which is speaking up during the attack, if safe to do so.

The aforementioned incident with the hooligan and the elderly man is an example of “distract,” Ting said. 

The subsequent de-escalation of the situation was a great outcome, she said. It showed that bystanders don’t have to get physically involved to help a victim being attacked.

A bystander may have unknowingly employed some of the Five D’s on March 29 when a Filipino woman, age 65, was violently attacked on West 43rd St. in Midtown, Manhattan. The attacker reportedly screamed a profanity at her and added, “You don’t belong here.”

Video footage shows people watching the beat down, but not lending a hand. Reports later came out that some of those people did move to help the woman after the attacker fled.

But the woman’s daughter shared even more of the story. Elizabeth Kari, writing on behalf of her mom, Vilma Kari, described the incident on a “Go Fund Me” page.

Teresa Ting is among 60 volunteers of Main Street Patrol, recently formed in response to anti-Asian violence in Flushing, Queens. Ting, an actress from Elmhurst, founded the group after watching videos of the Feb. 16 attack on a Chinese woman on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing. (Photo: Courtesy of Main Street Patrol)

“What this video did not capture was that there was someone who was standing across the street that witnessed my mom getting attacked who yelled and screamed to get the assailant’s attention. That is where the video cuts off as the attacker crossed the street to him,” Elizabeth Kari wrote. “I want to THANK YOU for stepping in and doing the right thing. This gesture of action is what we need in our world right now. I hope one day, my mom and I can thank you personally.”

Ting said the Good Samaritan on 43rd Street used a “combination distraction and being direct to the perpetrator.”

“If you’re afraid to intervene,” Ting said, “you can totally say something like, ‘Oh, the cops around the corner,’ or ‘I called the cops.’ They don’t know if it’s true or not. But they are more likely to disperse and run off.”

If they do split, don’t forget to employ another D — document. Information can lead to arrests, as in the Feb 16 and March 29 incidents. The attacker on 43rd Street was on parole for murdering his mother.

Although Ting and fellow patrollers have accomplished a lot in two months, they still have much to do while also attending to families and careers. Ting’s acting credits include the 2016 drama on human trafficking, “She Has a Name,” appearances as “Chang” in the third season of “Orange Is the New Black,” and an April 29 guest role on “Law and Order: SVU.”

So far, the patrol only deploys on weekends, but Ting wants to expand soon.

“We’re all working night and day, refining what we’re doing,” Ting said. “And I’m just like, ‘Do these people not have regular jobs?’ I mean, I know they do. They’re just so devoted, so passionate.”

Editor’s Note: For information, email the group at mainstreetpatrol@gmail.com, or visit its Instagram page, @mainstreetpatrol.