How Bystanders Can Help When We’re Under Attack

Lorraine Longhi/The Copper Courier

By Lorraine Longhi

March 31, 2021

Following a year in which anti-Asian hate crimes rose by nearly 150% in the nation’s largest cities, the attack in New York felt close to home.

On Monday night, I sat down on my couch for what I hoped would be a small reprieve from a week of reporting on protests about anti-Asian violence.

Then, I opened Twitter to video footage of the latest attack against an Asian woman, the video playing on my phone before I could fully comprehend what I was watching.

The security camera footage of the violent assault against the woman—filmed in broad daylight on the streets of New York City—has since gone viral.

If you haven’t seen the video, it’s triggering and graphically violent. A man walks up to the 65-year-old woman and shoves her to the ground, repeatedly kicking her in the head. 

I let the video autoplay several times before I finally put my phone down, tears quietly rolling down my cheeks at what I had just witnessed.

But it’s what happened after the attack that left me equally unnerved.

As the woman in question lies on the sidewalk outside a building in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, a large figure begins to walk over, only to begin shutting the door on her.

Another person can be seen watching the entire attack, never once moving toward the woman to help her during the entire 25-second video.

As attacks against people of Asian descent and Asian elders have escalated over the last year, Asian Americans across the country have had to repeatedly ask ourselves: Will my loved ones be next?

Now, we’re left with another question: If they are attacked, will anyone step in to help?

‘Who’s Going to Speak Out for Us?’

Following a year in which anti-Asian hate crimes rose by nearly 150% in the nation’s largest cities, the attack in New York feels close to home.

Arizona’s Asian communities have come together in recent weeks to protest violence against Asian Americans, including the death of Juanito Falcon, a 74-year-old Filipino man and Phoenix resident who died last month after being punched in the face and suffering severe head injuries.

When we spoke last week, former City of Chandler councilmember Sam Huang told me that the issue of racial discrimination has become personal for Asian Americans this year. 

“People are scared they could be the next one. I feel the same way. I could be the next one,” Huang said. “If we don’t speak out, who’s going to speak out for us?”

The New York Police Department’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force said Monday that a security guard in the video failed to render aid to the woman when he closed the door on her, according to ABC7 New York.

The management company of the building where the woman was attacked said Monday that it has suspended the employee, pending an investigation through the local union. The union told ABC7 that the employee had immediately called for help after the attack.

ABC7 journalist CeFaan Kim reported that the victim was in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and a contusion to the head.

While it’s impossible to tell what was going through the heads of the witnesses to the attack, the recent national conversations around violence against Asian communities has highlighted more ways that people can demonstrate active allyship in the wake of violent attacks.

Be A Better Bystander

The bystander effect is a social psychological theory meant to account for why some people behave passively when it comes to intervening in emergencies. Research into the bystander effect has shown that there is a “diffusion of responsibility,” or less urgency to respond to an emergency if there are other witnesses present.

As a result, college campuses and workplaces conduct bystander intervention training in an effort to teach people how to better de-escalate situations and intervene to prevent sexual assault or other forms of harassment.

And it’s yielded real results.

In 2014, the New York Times reported that 38% of men at the University of New Hampshire had intervened in a sexual assault after completing bystander training, compared with 12% of men who did not participate in the training. In the six years since the athletic department implemented mandatory training on hazing, bullying, and sexual consent, athletes with cases before the judicial affairs office fell by 91%.

RELATED: Arizona’s Asian Communities Are Coming Together in ‘Unprecedented’ Rallies to Protest Recent Hate Crimes

More recently, given the rise of anti-Asian sentiment, advocates are using bystander training to educate people on what to do if they witness a hate crime in real time.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a nonprofit legal aid and civil rights organization, is offering free, virtual bystander training to teach people how to identify harassment toward Asian Americans, and how to intervene in situations in a safe and effective way. 

The training uses the five D’s of bystander intervention from Hollaback!, a grassroots movement that seeks to end street harassment:

  • Distracting and interrupting when you witness harassment occurring. Start a conversation with the target by pretending to be lost or asking for the time.
  • Delegating by asking for help from a third-party or someone nearby. Find a store supervisor, bus driver, teacher or call 911 to ask for help.
  • Documenting the incident as it’s happening. To do so safely and effectively, keep a safe distance, film street signs or other nearby landmarks, and ask the victim afterwards what they want to do with the footage.
  • Delay by checking in with the victim afterwards and offering emotional support or assistance in reporting the incident.
  • Direct intervention, by asking in the moment if the victim needs assistance, or confronting the harasser. You can tell the harasser to leave the victim alone, or call out their behavior as inappropriate. Before directly intervening, always consider your safety first.

My aim in talking about the bystander effect isn’t to shame the bystanders in the video of the woman who was attacked yesterday in New York. Shock and panic can cause any individual to have a delayed reaction and be unsure of how to help in an emergency. 

I’m also heartened to hear reports that another bystander was willing to chase down the assailant in New York following the assault.

But Asian Americans are likely to continue seeing violence in their communities.

Kim, the ABC7 reporter, tweeted that hate crimes against people of Asian descent in New York had increased 14% during the first three months of 2021, compared with the entirety of last year.

Bystander training is just one way to educate yourself about how best to support Asian American communities as they inevitably continue to be the target of hate, violence, and harassment. 

Now, more than ever, when you see something, we need you to say something.

If you or someone you know have experienced anti-Asian violence, you can report hate crimes to Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center that was created earlier this month to track and respond to incidents of hate, violence, harassment and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout the United States.

Lorraine Longhi is a reporter at The Copper Courier. Reach her at or 480-243-4086.


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