‘These men were our neighbors’: Vigil in Chinatown honors homeless victims of murder spree, and calls for change

Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou spoke through tears at a vigil in Chatham Square. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

BY GABE HERMAN | They may have been without a home, but the four victims of Saturday’s murder spree in Chinatown were mourned at a Monday vigil as part of the community.

The Oct. 7 vigil and rally took place at Chinatown’s Chatham Square, just steps away from where four homeless men were brutally bludgeoned to death while sleeping on the streets early on Oct. 5.

“I just want to address how horrific and tragic this incident is,” said Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, who hosted the event.

Four homeless men were killed, and another was seriously hurt in the attacks. Police arrested another homeless man, Randy Rodriguez Santos, 24, for the alleged attacks with a metal pipe.

“These men were our neighbors, part of our community,” Niou said.

After a moment of silence, Niou spoke through tears about the city’s housing crisis and escalating homeless population. She stressed the need for changes on the city and state level to make housing more affordable for all, and increase services for homeless residents.

“We need systemic change and we need it now,” Niou said.

A man placed a flower in a memorial in Chatham square for the homeless men who were killed. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said funds for homeless services have been cut in recent years.

“The mayor’s housing policy is fundamentally wrong,” Stringer said, adding that affordable housing is actually unaffordable for people in communities. “The words ‘low-income housing’ must be part of our policy.”

Earlier on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced homeless outreach initiatives for Chinatown that include mental health teams, help in connecting to social services and emotional support for community members.

Other local officials at the vigil echoed calls for better housing policies and more compassion from society, including Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney, and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

A sidewalk memorial at East Broadway and Catherine Street. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Jason Walker of Vocal New York, a social services organization, said there needs to be more compassion for the most vulnerable New Yorkers, and more attention to mental health issues that affect many people living on the streets.

“We don’t have a homelessness crisis, we have a housing crisis in this city,” said Walker, who was formerly homeless himself. “[Governor] Cuomo and de Blasio failed people who rely on them to protect their lives.”

A note placed at the Chatham Square memorial read, “Help us get a home not murdered.” (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Before the vigil began, Downtown resident Vicky Cameron told this paper at Chatham Square that there are inherent problems in the political system that punish poor people.

“We’re the richest country and we can’t take care of our own,” said Cameron, who is a member of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan.

Cameron said things wouldn’t change even after these attacks. “We come out, we’re outraged,” she said. But similar to gun violence in America, she said, after people offer thoughts and prayers, nothing really changes.

“When you’re mentally ill, you have nowhere to go,” Cameron said. “I’m so sad. This is such a travesty.”

4 Responses to ‘These men were our neighbors’: Vigil in Chinatown honors homeless victims of murder spree, and calls for change

  1. Having grown up on 13th street in the lower east side in a “rail road“ apartment, with the toilet in the hallway, I know firsthand about the lack of affordable housing. Gentrification in the neighborhood has only made matters worse as there is no low income housing opportunities at all. These residents have seen their communities disappear and many are one paycheck from joining the homeless. The continued lack of affordable housing in NYC is an indictment of our society!

  2. Our City Council and Democratic officials – almost one and all – who are supposed to be the good guys, contributed at least $2M to the expansion of the vulgar and unnecessary expansion of the American Museum of Natural History which is basically run by Libertarians and the Trump backer Rebekah Mercer – both at least billionaires on the Board of Trustees. But when it comes to the genuine needy “We can’t afford it.” The Museum is supposed to be teaching “science” and I can assure you it will be cockamamie science.
    At the same time, they destroyed an old 250 year old tree canopy in the beautiful Teddy Roosevelt Park in this day age of climate change in order to satisfy the expansion needs.

  3. One of the men lived in Staten Island, and his daughter was at the press conference, as mentioned by BP Brewer and a recent event.

  4. Assemblywoman Niou knew about the increase with the homeless downtown.

    From: K[mailto:kh@nyc.rr.com]
    Sent: Sunday, June 2, 2019 3:09 PM
    To: ‘Yuh-Line Niou’
    Subject: assemblywoman.docx

    March 26, 2019

    Dear Honorable United States Senator Chuck Schumer,

    If I was an illegal immigrant, any Democrat, including the Governor and offer help. However, this is not the case for this Black women, specifically in Lower Manhattan. There is an epidemic of homeless women that are aggressively panhandling on Market Street from 1 Police Place to Rutgers Street. It is obvious these women have mental health challenges. I heard some were transitioning from prison. I have seen a few drink alcohol across the street from the shelter. They walk across the street to Smith housing, smoke weed and drink before they have to meet curfew. One morning on my way to work, one of these women asked me for money. She kept on walking with me and she was telling me, “A man thought her she had diamonds between her thighs. She did not want to catch any diseases or to steal herself and could I help her.” I did not pull out my wallet, so I pointed her to my church and told her about services they provide. I have seen more and more women come for clothing. I am sure more are coming to the food pantry as well as for lunch on Wednesday. MTBC is a beacon to this community. Yes, we are a church are supposed to service the community, but where are our politicians? These women need drug counselors, psychiatrists and job training. The 5th Precinct and their PS4 unit has received a lot of reports of violence and complaints about these women. It is not a crime to be homeless, but it is sad when politicians are more focused on President Trump and illegal immigrants to address to needs or the community in which they are supposed to represent. I feel it is because these women are primarily Black and no one will speak up for them. I saw one woman who may have been a Latina, she was walking around with a thin summer tank top and cotton shorts when it was around 25-30 degrees. My heart hurt for her because it was obvious she was on something. She was hanging around Knickerbocker Village, so she is on camera. On Ash Wednesday, former Assemblywoman Alice Cancel was attacked by a homeless woman. The police said, “They cannot press charges because she was not on her medication.” I do not blame NYPD. I do blame the lack of support about this matter on my politicians. I do not care about anyone’s race, religion or sexual orientation. I do care about people who stay in USA on expired visas. They have access to more services than I do. There is something wrong with this picture.

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