The man, Yao Pan Ma, was pushing a grocery cart full of bottles and cans that he had collected on April 23 when he was suddenly approached from behind and attacked in East Harlem. He fell onto the sidewalk, was kicked in the head and stomped on several times, police said.
Ma, 61, was placed on a ventilator and remained hospitalized since the assault occurred near 125th Street and Third Avenue. He had severe head injuries and there was bleeding in his brain, officials said.
The man arrested in the attack, Jarrod Powell, 49, was charged with attempted murder and two counts of assault as a hate crime at the time. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said Saturday that upgraded murder charges were expected to be filed.
Ma’s death on Dec 31 came at the end of a year in which similar unprovoked attacks on Asian people prompted fear and led to protests in New York and across the country.
The New York Police Department received 128 reports of anti-Asian hate crimes through the end of November. That represented a sharp rise from the 28 that were recorded through that period in 2020. Community groups have said that anti-Asian attacks have long been underreported because of language barriers and distrust of the police.
Powell was arrested days after the attack. The police found him at a shelter he had lived in for about 10 months, according to court documents. A lawyer for Powell could not immediately be reached Saturday.
Powell denied “having problems with Asians” in interviews with officers, according to court records. He said that he had been robbed a day before the attack by two men, one Korean and one Japanese, but did not call 911 or offer physical descriptions besides their ethnicities, the documents said.
Powell claimed that Ma was one of the men, according to the filings. He said he saw him on the street the next day, and that he had been verbally provoked. When Ma fell to the ground, Powell said he thought, “I am not going to let you up” and began kicking him, the filings say.
His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 10.
In New York, to charge attacks like the one against Ma as hate crimes, prosecutors must show that the victims were targeted because of their race. The police said that surveillance camera footage suggested that Ma and his attacker had not interacted before the assault, leading them to believe he may have been targeted because of his race.
Ma’s wife, Baozhen Chen, could not be reached Saturday for comment. In the spring, she spoke to several local news outlets and said she feared that her husband would “not make it” after the attack.
The pair moved to New York City around 2019 from China’s Guangdong province, leaving their two adult children behind. Ma had worked as a dessert chef in China, she told the Daily News, but lost his job at a restaurant in New York during the pandemic.
He was ineligible for unemployment benefits, and began to collect cans on the street starting in September 2020, she said.
Chen, a home health care aide, said Ma regularly called her when he arrived at home, letting her know that he had made it back safely. She worried after he failed to call on the April night when she later learned that he had been attacked.
“He was just trying to help out the family,” Chen told the News. “He had no bad intentions. He wouldn’t cause trouble with other people in his neighbourhood.”
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