Residents of Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park sue Districting Commission for alleged discrimination against Asian/Indian Americans

Standing on the steps of New York City Hall, community activist Harpreet Singh Toor speaks in support of AALDEF’s lawsuit on behalf of the Asian American community of Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park in Queens. Photo Credit: Stuart J. Sia/AALDEF.

The advocacy group, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) filed a lawsuit Feb. 24, 2023, on behalf of 18 individuals living in Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park, alleging discrimination by the NYC Districting Commission, the NYC Board of Elections, and the New York State Board of Elections over the city’s adoption of the city council districting map. The lawsuit is also joined by one community organization, D.R.U.M. (Desis Rising Up and Moving) that has members who live in the area.

The petition, a copy of which was provided by AALDEF, shows virtually all 18 plaintiffs are of Indian origin.

The suit claims that the new lines “deny the Asian American community of Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park in Queens any reasonable chance of fair and effective representation,” a press release from the organization said.

According to AALDEF, the suit is aimed at defending the rights of the Asian American community in Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park, “to enforce the clear and important protections of the New York City Charter, and delay petitioning for the upcoming city council primary election until a district plan is put in place that complies with the Charter and ensures the fair and effective representation of this community.”

“Many of us have worked hard in recent years to raise awareness in our community about the importance of political involvement, with some great success. But we still are not yet where we need to be. Redistricting offers us the opportunity to make the advancements we need,” Harpreet Singh Toor, an Indian American community activist told Desi Talk.

Above and below: Indian American residents of Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park, both young and old, met in the days leading to the filing of the petition of the Feb. 24, 2023, petition challenging the redistrict of their area by the NYC Districting Commission. Photos: courtesy Harpreet Toor.

“Redistricting could place more of us at the decision-making table. Finally provide a majority of people who look and think like us, who understand our interests and our needs, where it most matters,” Toor added.

That would ensure the community the level of services it requires and deserves, Toor contends.

Democracy Program Director of AALDEF Jerry Vattamala described Asian Americans as one of the fastest growing populations in the city made up of immigrant and native-born New Yorkers of Guyanese, Punjabi, Trinidadian, Surinamese, and Bengali descent.

“Yet despite the protections of the NYC Charter and our warnings throughout the redistricting process, the council map carved up the community and muffled their voices, continuing our city’s painful history of dividing, marginalizing, and disenfranchising communities of color,” Vattamala asserted. “This is an important community whose members contribute to our city every day, and they deserve a reasonable opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice,” he added.

According to AALDEF, historically, this Asian American neighborhood in Queens has been divided up and prevented from electing candidates of their choice by the redistricting process at multiple levels of government, splitting the area into seven state assembly districts and three city council districts.

Last year, according to AALDEF, the New York City Districting Commission divided Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park among three city council Districts.

“This action was done in violation of the New York City Charter’s mandate,” said AALDEF. The mandate requires that the Districting Commission “ensures the fair and effective representation of racial and language minority groups” to “the maximum extent practicable,”,” AALDEF noted.

“Throughout the redistricting process, we and our neighbors have showed up to urge the Commission to keep our community whole and to preserve Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park as one district,” said Jagpreet Singh, Political Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). But that has not happened he indicated.We belong here as much as anyone else and should be allowed to take part in the decision making of the city we give so much to,” he added.

Toor told Desi Talk, keeping the community together through a fair redistricting would ensure, “Our children will get the best schools; When a health care crisis, such as Covid occurs, we will receive the care we deserve and need,” as well as protection against crime and steps to prevent crime. “And we will see people who look like us, think like us, understand the needs of our community, making the important political decisions that determine the quality of life,” Toor added.



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