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SF’s Asian community expresses fear, outrage at vigil for woman killed on NY subway tracks

Emily Luong held a candle in honor of Michelle Go in San Francisco Chinatown vigil event on Jan. 18, 2022. | Han Li

The killing of an Asian American woman with Bay Area roots this past weekend in New York City has reignited community concerns over pandemic-related hate crimes and prompted vigils to be held across the country Tuesday night, including here in San Francisco where more than a third of the city residents are people of Asian descent.

Michelle Go, a 40-year-old Bay Area native who was living in New York, was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train Saturday morning at the Times Square station. The brutal killing sparked global outrage and is the latest highly publicized incident as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have experienced a spike in attacks and discrimination during the pandemic due to racist rhetoric linked to the spread of the virus. While the incident is not believed to be a hate crime—authorities said the suspect has mental health issues—the fear it sparked was pervasive at Tuesday's event.

“We should be able to walk down the street without fear of being assaulted, or spit upon, or getting cursed at,” said Nancy Tung, a public safety advocate and board member of the local Democratic Party who attended Tuesday’s vigil at Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square. “We should be able to walk down the street after going to community college and not worry about being killed.”

Tung was among roughly 100 people who attended the Chinatown vigil to remember Go. “So all of these things, we owe it to them,” she said “We owe it to all the victims.”

Attendees hold candles at a vigil in on Jan. 18, 2022 in San Francisco's Chinatown in honor of Michelle Go, an Asian American woman with Bay Area roots who was killed in a brutal attack Saturday in New York City. | Han Li

Recent crimes targeting AAPI people have exacerbated a growing sense of fear in the community since the pandemic started. Stop AAPI Hate, an online reporting project, has documented more than 10,000 attacks and incidents of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide since March 2020. According to San Francisco police data, the city has seen a surge in attacks as the pandemic has continued through 2021.

Go’s killing is believed to be a random attack, authorities said. Simon Martial, the 61-year-old suspect, is a homeless man with mental challenges who claimed to be “god.”

David Chiu, San Francisco’s city attorney, attended Tuesday’s vigil and shared his concerns about the rise in anti-AAPI crime.

City Attorney David Chiu spoke at a vigil event for Michelle Go on Jan. 18, 2022 in San Francisco's Chinatown. | Han Li

“I used to live in New York City. I used to take the No.6 train. I used to stand in the platform in Times Square [Station],” he said. “We are here today because we have to come together to say: This has to stop.”

A vigil of roughly 1,000 people was also held Tuesday night in New York City.

Go was born in Berkeley and grew up in Fremont. Garry Tan, a tech investor and a friend of the victim who attended the same high school in Fremont, described Go as a “light” to others and condemned the “horrible, senseless” violence.

“We all deserve to be safe and achieve our dreams,” Tan said.

Go’s family issued a statement asking for justice: “Her life was taken too soon in a senseless act of violence, and we pray that she gets the justice she deserves.” The statement also asked the public to remember Go “for how she lived and not just how she died.”

Her family didn’t attend the vigil and asked for privacy in this difficult time

The family of another high-profile crime victim, Vicha Ratanapakdee, joined in Tuesday’s vigil. The killing of Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man who was shoved from behind last year on a San Francisco street in the city’s Anza Vista neighborhood and later died became a flashpoint in the Stop Asian Hate movement.

Another rally is set for Jan. 30 to mark the one-year anniversary of Ratanapakdee’s death.