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A Brief But Spectacular take on keeping New York’s Chinatown safe

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: Chinatown is typically a vibrant and bustling staple of New York City.

But, as a result of COVID-19, the area became a ghost town, with some there experiencing xenophobic attacks.

In response, longtime resident Karlin Chan created the Chinatown Block Watch to help to keep everyone safe.

He's the focus of tonight's Brief But Spectacular.

Karlin Chan: I started patrolling the streets of the Lower East Side with a couple of friends because we had heard of some harassment that was going on.

So, then I shared it on social media. We started with five people, six people, and now we have expanded to a group of 20 -- 20 or 30 people.

We are a multiethnic group who are banding together, who unite to fight xenophobia and hate.

I love this area, because I grew up in this area. I have lived here in this area over 60 years now. It's a vibrant, functioning immigrant community.

First, it was an Irish slum, and then it was an Italian and Jewish slum. Then it became a Chinese slum. Now it's changed. We have a functioning Chinatown. And my hope is that, no matter how much we get gentrified, it will remain a functioning Chinatown.

Pre-COVID-19, this was a bustling area. Right around the lunar new year every year, the streets are packed with celebrants. And we have tons of tourists that will shoot into this area just to observe the various traditions that we have, lion dancing, dragons, the floats, the music, the food.

COVID-19 affected this community early on. As news out of China broke about the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, many tourists stopped visiting the area. Even regulars stopped coming to this area to patronize our shops and our restaurants. A lot of it was caused by xenophobia.

And it was a misconception that all Chinese carried this virus, whereas we're born with this virus or something. Restaurants experienced a 50 to 60 percent drop in business, and many were forced to close.

This is even pre-lockdown, which went into effect in March. Since the lockdown, the streets are really totally empty. There's no one out there. Only the few came out to wait on line to buy necessities every few days.

We do have incidents of harassment, verbal, as people pass through the neighborhood. If we witness an incident, we will record it, document it, and we will help the victim report it.

We're here to tell people, with these highly visible safety vests that are -- that we have a visible presence on the streets, and we're not going to tolerate any incidents of harassment or attacks here.

Because we are residents of the community, the business owners who are open, they recognize us, and it's really reassuring to them to see a friendly face keeping an eye out for them.

My name is Karlin Chan, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on the Chinatown Block Watch.

Judy Woodruff: And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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