assemblywoman grace meng urges district attorney to classify cornell assault as hate crime

In New York, Assemblywoman Grace Meng is urging the Tompkins County District Attorney to classify the assault on an Asian student earlier this month at Cornell University as a bias motivated hate crime.

According to Cornell Police, an Asian student was riding his bicycle when he was approached by four people in a vehicle yelling racial slurs at him. One person in the car then got out and assaulted the cyclist. Police have arrested 19-year-old Viktor Nikulin in connection with the incident.

Authorities are reportedly still trying to determining whether or not the assault was racially motivated. I don't understand why there's any ambiguity. The Assemblywoman apparently thinks it's a no-brainer too. Here's the strongly-worded letter she sent to District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson:
June 21, 2011

Honorable Gwen Wilkinson
District Attorney, Tompkins County
320 North Tioga Street
Ithaca, New York 14850
via fax transmission: (607) 274-5429

District Attorney Wilkinson,

This letter is respectfully sent concerning the June 5th attack of a student of Asian descent on the Cornell University Campus. The last news on this vicious assault was that an arrest had been made and, according to reports, that your office was "reviewing the case to see whether hate crime charges would apply."

An attorney myself, I am aware of the dangers surrounding prosecutors speaking on how cases are assessed. But I am troubled that your office has been silent on all aspects of this upsetting matter.

All violent crimes are horrendous. Judging one a hate crime does not diminish others; rather it conveys our society's commitment to shared priorities of respect, tolerance, acceptance and inclusion, and clearly signals that some acts are to be highlighted as tearing at the bonds of our civic life.

New York State's Asian-American communities are vibrant and dynamic, and have a long history of social activism. Like all communities, we value education, close family ties and generational aspirations and advancement. Silence from government officials in the face of an obvious bias attack - on a college campus no less! - is an affront to these values.

I encourage your office to continue its careful review of this matter and hope you agree that this incident was a bias motivated hate crime. Similarly, I strongly urge you to reach out for and speak with the various Asian-American organizations that are closely following this matter. Surely this is a local prosecution with statewide, national and academic significance.

Grace Meng
Member of Assembly
Assemblywoman Meng also shared her distress that the District Attorney hasn't communicated with New York’s Asian American community about this incident. The reluctance to call this hate crime, plus the lack of communication about these deliberations, is certainly cause for concern to anyone who's worried that they'd try to sweep this under the rug. Call it what it is -- that's racist!

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