NEW YORK >> A 28-year-old Manhattan resident was arrested and charged with hate crimes Wednesday evening in connection with a two-hour spree of attacks on women of Asian descent in Manhattan over the weekend, another example of a grim wave of violence against Asian Americans.
There was no indication that the assailant knew any of the seven victims, two of whom were treated at local hospitals. The police charged the Manhattan man, Steven Zajonc, with seven counts of assault and attempted assault classified as hate crimes and with seven counts of aggravated harassment and harassment that were not classified as hate crimes.
Zajonc was taken into custody outside a public library in Midtown on Wednesday afternoon, a police spokesperson said. The police said the man, originally from Florida, had declined to make a statement after his arrest Wednesday night.
The first attack took place at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday around 30th Street and Madison Avenue, when the man approached a 57-year-old woman and, without uttering a word, punched her in the face, the police said. Ten minutes later and a block west, the nightmare repeated itself. The second victim was 25.
The attacks all followed the same template as the assailant made his way south. The next two victims, punched in the face just minutes apart, were also in their early 20s. At 7:05 p.m., a 19-year-old was elbowed in the face at Union Square. Twenty minutes later, the man was on East Houston Street near Mott Street, where he elbowed another woman in the mouth.
The man then headed north to Greenwich Village. The last attack occurred near Eighth Street and Broadway, close to New York University, at about 8:40 p.m. The victim, 20, was shoved to the ground before the man fled west.
“There was no prior interaction and no statements were made,” in any of the incidents, the police said.
The man’s image was captured by surveillance cameras in several locations, and the attacks were being investigated by the department’s Hate Crime Task Force.
Anti-Asian violence in the city has soared during the pandemic; the police recorded 131 bias incidents against Asians in 2021, up from 28 in 2020 and just three in 2019. Activists caution that incidents are not always reported to the police or classified as hate crimes, making it difficult to capture the true extent to which Asians are being targeted.
Attacks against Asian New Yorkers have recently led to four deaths. Yao Pan Ma, a Chinese immigrant, was beaten as he collected cans in East Harlem in April and died from his injuries on New Year’s Eve. Michelle Alyssa Go was pushed to her death at the Times Square subway station in January. Last month, Christina Yuna Lee was fatally stabbed by a man who followed her into her Chinatown apartment. And GuiYing Ma, who was attacked as she swept a sidewalk in the Corona neighborhood of Queens in November, died of her injuries last week.
Other recent examples of assaults abound, including one that targeted a Korean diplomat and another involving an Asian American performer who was on his way to a preview performance of “The Chinese Lady” by the Ma-Yi Theater Company and The Public Theater.
In a statement last week, the artistic directors of the two companies, Ralph B. Peña and Oskar Eustis, wrote that the performer’s glasses had been broken, his eye had been bruised, and he had been kicked several times.
“We are sharing this because the attack on this Asian American artist, which happened near Seward Park not far from where Christina Yuna Lee was tragically murdered, is another incident in a long history of violence against Asian Americans,” they said. “The violence and the hatred that fuels it remain disgusting and heartbreaking and have created an environment full of fear where safety seems scarce for our Asian American neighbors.”
A police spokesperson said Wednesday that the attack on the diplomat was being investigated as a hate crime, and that the attack on the performer, who is 16, had been classified as a harassment complaint.
Nationwide, Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of community and academic organizations, tracked more than 10,300 attacks and other incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from March 2020 to September 2021. Surveys have also shown large numbers of Asian Americans are fearful of attacks and harassment, impeding the slow return to normalcy as the pandemic ebbs.
City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who represents the district where nearly all of the attacks took place, said in a statement that she was “equal parts devastated and enraged” about the events.
“Condemnation is not enough,” she said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.