Head-kicking attack in New York leaves Asian man, 61, in coma, sparks hate-crime investigation

People hold placards as they gather to protest against anti-Asian hate crimes, racism and vandalism, outside City Hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kyaw Soe Oo

Yao Pan Ma was pushing a grocery cart and collecting bottles in East Harlem on Friday evening when a man dressed in black approached him from behind and struck him in the back.

The blow left Ma, 61, motionless on the sidewalk as his attacker repeatedly kicked him in the head before walking away, a 13-second video released by the New York Police Department shows.

Ma, a Chinese immigrant, remained in a medically induced coma as of Sunday night, his wife, Baozhen Chen, told the New York Daily News.

Now the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force is investigating the case and searching for the suspect seen in the video, police told The Washington Post. Police told PIX 11 it is unclear whether the man yelled any anti-Asian slurs during the beating.

“I am very worried that my husband is not going to make it,” Chen, 57, told the Daily News. “I want the police to capture the person as soon as possible.”

The incident is the latest violent attack amid a nationwide surge of harassment and physical assaults against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In recent months, Asian Americans in New York have been punched on subway cars, spit on, stomped in the head and subjected to anti-Asian racial slurs at work.

Ma’s attack prompted dozens of New Yorkers to march on Sunday to the site of the incident to condemn anti-Asian violence, and drew the attention of local officials who vowed to capture the suspect.

“Make no mistake, we will find the perpetrator and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” tweeted Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, who called the incident “outrageous.”

Ma and his wife, who have two adult children, moved to New York from China’s Guangdong province in 2019 looking for better work opportunities, Chen told the Daily News. Ma, who was a dessert chef in China, found a job in a Chinatown restaurant.

But like millions of other kitchen workers, Ma lost his job in the pandemic, his wife said. So last September, Ma began pushing a shopping cart across the city and stuffing it with recyclables for an extra income.

That’s what Ma was doing near his East Harlem apartment last Friday around 8:20 p.m. when a man ambushed him from behind, hit him and stomped his head at least half a dozen times, surveillance video shows. A bus driver who saw Ma unconscious on the ground called the police, WABC reported.

Chen, meanwhile, grew concerned when Ma did not call as usual that night to check that she’d made it back safely from her job as a home attendant, she told the Daily News. When Chen dialed his number, she said, police picked up.

“The police told me what happened – my husband was hit and sent to the hospital,” she said.

Ma, who sustained significant injuries, was taken to NYC Health & Hospitals in Harlem in critical condition, police said. By Sunday, Ma was still breathing through a ventilator, Chen told the Daily News.

On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, denounced the attack and ordered the state’s hate crimes task force to assist in the investigation.

“I’m sickened to learn of yet another bigoted act of violence,” Cuomo said in statement. “This is not who we are as New Yorkers, and we will not let these cowardly acts of hate against members of our New York family intimidate us.”

Chen said she fears for her life as an Asian woman living in New York and worries her husband may never recover from the brutal assault.

“I’m very scared right now,” Chen told WCBS. “I’m so worried that my husband might never come back. . . . This should not happen to my husband or anyone else. This is America. I wish the criminal can be arrested and put in jail for good.”

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