The male suspect who allegedly assaulted seven diﬀerent women of Asian descent on Sunday across several Manhattan neighborhoods has been apprehended, according to police.
The suspect has been identified as Steve Zajonc, who is believed to be experiencing homelessness and whose address is listed as a Manhattan shelter. Zajonc was apprehended inside a Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library after library guards recognized him from security footage.
According to several media accounts, police say that Zajonc punched a 57-year-old Asian woman near Madison Avenue and East 30th Street around 6:30 p.m. Sunday, fleeing before he could be apprehended. Ten minutes later, he approached another Asian woman in the same neighborhood and hit her as well. In both incidents, police say he did not speak or interact with the victims at all before attacking them unprovoked.
Less than twenty minutes after the second attack, Zajonc punched a third Asian woman in the face in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. Over the next half hour, he punched two more Asian women, aged 25 and 19, respectively. All three women in Gramercy Park suﬀered lacerations and swelling of the mouth; the first woman was transported to the hospital, while the second and third women did not require treatment.
Reports say he then traveled to Lower Manhattan, where he elbowed a 25-year-old Asian woman in the mouth. Shortly after 8:30 p.m., he walked up to a 20-year-old Asian woman in Greenwich Village and pushed her down to the ground, again without speaking to her.
All the women appear to be in stable condition. However, these are just the latest in the spate of crimes against New Yorkers of Asian descent, particularly women, over the past year. Sunday’s assaults come less than a month after assailant Assamad Nash followed creative director Christina Yuna Lee into her Chinatown apartment and stabbed her to death. A few weeks before that, an assailant pushed 40-year-old Michelle Go to her death in the path of an oncoming train at Times Square. GuiYing Ma, 61, who was attacked with a rock in November in Corona, Queens, also died this past week of her injuries.
Fear and Anger
The city’s Asian-American communities continue to express fear and anger over the disturbing trend.
“It has been a tough two months for NYC with four deaths due to anti-Asian violence, including Yao Pan Ma, Michelle Alyssa Go, and GuiYing Ma,” says Michelle Tran, founder of a nonprofit which seeks to help protect Asian-Americans from hate crimes. “This anti-Asian violence has been surging since the start of the pandemic, but these four recent murders has been tough for our Asian American community members.”
Asian-American New Yorkers have been vocal about the issue over the past months, holding several events to speak out against the unprovoked assaults.
“Right now our community is grieving, but I can sense that more have been activated and fueled to speak out or do something to fight these injustices targeting us,” says Tran.
In the wake of Christina Lee’s murder, local running group Run For Chinatown led a group jog last week on the block where Lee lived. The event aimed to honor her life and call attention to crimes against Asians. They chose to run 35 miles around the block, one mile for each year of Lee’s life.
Tran’s nonprofit, Soar Over Hate, has also worked to raise awareness about anti-Asian hate. In addition, they have equipped Asian seniors in New York with alarms, whistles and pepper spray to defend against attackers.
“[After Christina Yuna Lee’s death,] we at Soar Over Hate organized an emergency distribution of pepper spray and personal safety devices to workers in small businesses in Chinatown, making sure to target businesses near Christina’s apartment,” explains Tran.
“It is Unacceptable”
Members of city government have begun to speak about anti-Asian violence and ways to address it, though they acknowledge there is much more that needs to be done.
“It’s the latest example of the way that Asian Americans, and especially Asian American women, are being targeted disproportionately in a regular stream of attacks. It is unacceptable,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine told Our Town.
“This particular incident makes it so obvious that the attacker was targeting people based on their race and gender because all seven [are] women and all seven are Asian. Really grateful he’s been apprehended. But we have a broader problem here that we need to address on many fronts.”
Mayor Eric Adams has spoken out about the issue, most recently in response to the murder of Christina Lee. “Mourning is not enough,” said Adams. “We stand with our Asian brothers and sisters against all attacks — motivated by hate or not — and will work every day to ensure this violence does not go unchecked.”
Levine says mental health services are necessary to prevent such incidents from happening.
“We want people in crisis to come oﬀ the street, to get into a treatment program, to get into housing. But we have a shortage of all those kinds of facilities.”
He also emphasizes the importance of uplifting Asian American voices, saying, “I think that we need, more broadly, education in our schools that counters ... the ignorance that is underlying the hate crimes in NYC.
“We should teach more about Asian American history,” he adds. “The history of all marginalized people needs to be uplifted and elevated in our public school curriculum.”