16 Safety Guidelines for the Parents of Asian Children

By Suelain Moy

I wrote these safety guidelines to help protect our children. Parents, please adapt them as you see fit, according to the age of your child and what you think they can handle. I developed these tactics as a young teenager and woman in New York City, when I would get harassed and threatened on my way to school or on my way home. The goal of this document is to get parents and kids to think strategically about their physical safety, and to make a safety plan “just in case.”

1. Tell your children you love them, and that the violence or harassment is NOT their fault.

2. Tell your child to always tell you if anyone threatens to hurt them or harm them. Talk with them about what they can do to protect themselves and keep themselves safe. They might have to create a distraction, so they can run and get to safety.

3. Do not pick up the hate that other people throw down. It’s the racist who should be ashamed–and not your child. Your child did nothing wrong to cause this.

4. The most important thing is to stay alert. Be aware of your surroundings–especially WHO is near you–and do not get distracted by your cell phone, listening to music, or videogames. Many hate speech incidents and hate crimes have happened on corners, where people are waiting to cross the street. Attackers know you have to wait at the corner before crossing the street. Many people look at their phones while waiting on the corner, but if you’re looking down at your cell phone, you may not notice anyone approaching you or any vehicles or bicycles coming towards you.

You need to be aware of who is around you at all times–in front of you, behind you, and to the sides.

5. Remember that 3 out of 4 hate crimes happen to females. If you can, travel and walk in groups or with a buddy. Some people have gotten away by pretending to wave to an imaginary policeman or neighbor behind their attacker or off in the distance: “Oh, hello, officer!” or “Hi, Mr. Wilson!” When your attacker looks in the direction of where you’re looking and pointing, you run away.

6. Do anything you can to throw off your attacker. Be unpredictable. Run away, yell, act crazy, talk to yourself. Racists and attackers are not expecting you to fight back. They are expecting you to be polite or submissive. This is especially true of the girls. Tell your kids that they do not have to be polite if they feel scared, unsafe, or uncomfortable. They can just start running away, or create a distraction to put more distance between them and an attacker.

The element of surprise has helped me throw off any would-be attackers and escape them. Sometimes as someone gets closer and closer, I will suddenly break out into song, or start muttering to myself loudly about what an awful day I’m having.

7. Yell it back to hell. Shout LOUDLY, at the top of your lungs. I have found that shouting the words “RACIST!” or “PERVERT!” to be very effective in calling attention to a hate crime or hate speech incident. If you have a quiet or shy child, they can pretend they don’t speak any English, shake their heads no, and run away. This way your child does not have to have any interaction with the assailant at all, or explain themselves, or be polite. Some people will stop talking if they think you don’t understand a word they said.

8. Observe/Memorize any identifying features of your attacker. Try to remember what the person looked like: their height, weight, their clothing and shoes, tattoos or scars–anything that could help identify them. This is a skill. Practice it as you’re walking down the street or around the neighborhood.

If you can record your attacker with your cell phone, then do so safely from a distance. Sometimes taking out your cell phone can anger/antagonize attackers even more. Cell phones can be knocked out of kids’ hands. I prefer that kids use their cell phones to call for help: 911, their parents, their friends, the police–and not take their eyes off the attacker.

9. Beware of the attackers who do not wear masks. They might try to spit on you. Many people in New York City have been spit on, and were not expecting it. Keep a clear distance from any strangers, and don’t let them get close enough to spit on you.

10. Get your child a self-defense siren or personal alarm from Amazon to carry in their pocket, or someplace they can reach it easily. If someone threatens them, they can activate the alarm and it will let out a piercing siren or a high-pitched wailing sound. When the loudness of the alarm startles the attacker, tell your child to run away.

11. Long-handled umbrellas can keep attackers at a distance of a few feet, or protect you from being spit on or having any fluids thrown on you. They can be used in self-defense, in case you can’t run away. Older people have used canes or brooms, or picked up a stick to protect themselves. Use what you have on hand.

12. If someone grabs you from behind: Head butt them by using the back of your head, which is very hard, to hit the attacker’s nose, face, or mouth. Or you can go limp, using all of your body weight and the force of gravity to become heavy and slide downwards and out of the lock. They won’t be expecting that either.

13. Sometimes kids may be reluctant to talk. You might have to have more than one conversation with them. Try to connect with them during low-key moments when you’re in the car, or walking them to school. They might have questions while watching the news.

14. Stay safe and look out for each other. If you see someone in trouble, you can:

a) Call 911 for help, or get help.

b) Provide a distraction by greeting the target and pretending to know them. You also can yell, “The cops are coming!” If you feel unsafe, check in with the victim after the harassment and offer them support and assistance.

c) Use your phone to record the incident on video or take a photo of the attacker.

d) Offer to walk with the victim to the police station, or serve as a witness for the police report.

15. Remember different tactics will work in different situations. Do what you can to protect yourself and your child. You can run into a store. You can walk in the middle of the street, where people and cars are more likely to see you, if there’s not too much traffic. You can call 911 on the phone as you’re running away.

16. Follow your gut instincts. If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable around someone for any reason, don’t hesitate to do what’s safe for you and your child first.

Instead of Bread Lines There Are Power Lines

Outside Bobst Library, WiFi is precious. Inside, students attend a Sandy soiree. Photo by Sandra Borri.

“On the Upper East Side, it’s like nothing happened,” Andrea tells me. Post-Sandy, it’s a different story downtown. Electricity is power. So is WiFi. The power lines are the new bread lines. At NYU, across the street from Washington Square Park, folks gather to charge their iPhones, smart phones, cell phones, laptops, Google tablets, and iPads. Simple cell phones charge quickly. Smartphones can take up to four hours. This is my new day job, charging my Samsung Galaxy so that it has enough power to last the night.

Every day we camp out around the extension cords and electrical outlets at Bobst Library, to share news and NYU guest passwords.

When I first walk up to NYU, it’s a Tuesday afternoon. I am looking for my son, who is a freshman. Cell phone service is down. There are no ingoing or outgoing calls. Texts turn up hours after being sent. Standing in the lobby of my son’s dorm, I ask to see him.

The RA on duty looks overwhelmed. It feels surreal when he tells me that I can’t go up to see my son, and he’s can’t send anyone upstairs to tell my son that I am here. He suggests that I can leave a message in my son’s mailbox. I don’t even know if my kid knows he has a mailbox. I scribble a note that I will wait outside, but the gates to Washington Square Park are locked. Rain is falling steadily. I notice people milling in the lobby at Bobst Library. I text my son that I will wait for him there, and hope he gets it.

Once inside, I notice a man trying to plug his laptop into a broken socket. Then I spy a college student charging his iPhone at an outdoor electrical outlet. Within half an hour, there’s a crowd around us. Jean, a parks worker, brings his own extension cord. It’s a generous and popular gesture. The next day, I start carrying an extension cord, too.

Nearly 3 hours later, my son gets my texts and joins me. He’s upset because nobody told him I was downstairs. We’re both thinking the same thing: if lower Manhattan had been plunged into darkness and chaos, that might have been my last opportunity to see my son or move him to safety.

When Hurricane Sandy first hit, I had enough supplies to weather three days but not seven. By Tuesday, I was like the Little Match Girl, trying to figure out how to make three matches last a few more nights. By Wednesday, I replenish my one fat candle–a waxy wonder that smells like a banana split and burns for long hours each night. A stationery store gives me a box of matches. I pick up two cheap lighters with a picture of the Twin Towers on the side from a souvenir store. They work. On Mott Street, north of Canal, I find apples, carrots, broccoli, and bok choy. I am one of the lucky ones. I have a gas stove and running water. I also live on a low floor. There are people who have to walk down 16 flights of stairs to walk their dog.

Information is a precious commodity, as are candles and matches. We are an isolated, eclectic lot, bound together by a fundamental need to connect. The prospect of diminishing supplies and the lack of internet, cable, and TV news, force us to go outside and be nice. Screenwriters, therapists, fortunetellers, photojournalists, college students, and tourists all mix and mingle alike.

I make new friends at the electrical hubs every day. It gets cold sitting on the granite outside. We keep ourselves warm by telling jokes and stories and laughing. It’s a considerate crowd. Everyone asks politely, “May I?” before pulling out an adapter or cord or device. There have been no fistfights.

So far I’ve met Howard, a former gift shop owner who now sells expensive purebred puppies in the Village. Then there’s Carmella, whose rock star looks and bawdy sense of humor could give Keith Richards a run for his money. We are joined by Paul, an architect with a very dry wit, and John and Mario, who bring news from South Street Seaport, where Water Street is under water and looters have gleefully scooped up J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, and SuperDry merchandise after Hurricane Sandy graciously blew down the storefront windows. “I could have jumped from the patio and gone for a swim!” exclaims Mario, after patiently waiting on a coffee shop line for two hours to get us all cups of coffee. We share peanut butter sandwiches, and talk about the best way to take a cab to Astoria now that the subways are down. We don’t know when the blackout will end, and wonder if we should stay with friends elsewhere.

When a news reporter asks Carmella what brought her here, she quips, “Well, I was sitting in the park just feeding the squirrels…” to loud guffaws from the rest of us. “Well, obviously, we come for the power,” Carmella explains. “And the WiFi. This is a hot spot. Yeah. And I’m hot!” She tells us about her houseguests, who will be arriving soon to run in the New York City Marathon. Talk circulates about cell phone service (there is sporadic service from Verizon and none from AT&T), the more than 100 houses that burned down in the Rockaways,  a grocery store on Bleecker that charges reasonable prices for candles and bread, and Grand Bo-Ky, a Chinatown restaurant that serves hot noodle soups, beef stew, and duck on Grand Street. (The owner hauled in a generator from New Jersey.)

Bike riders, like Diana, a preschool teacher, bring us precious news from north of 25th Street. “There are lights there!” she tells us. And we all know what that means: working ATMs. She tells me about her hand-powered washing machine, WonderWash, and a manual dryer that works like a salad spinner. I listen appreciatively. I will try to get those as soon as my internet service is restored. Now that the bridges are open, we notice more places to get food and supplies, restaurants, small grocery stores, and delis, and we add them to our collective consciousness, till we have a working map of useful places to go.

NYU students, professors, and other ID-bearing personnel can charge up their devices inside the library, but it’s not unusual to find people plugged into outlets in the restrooms and watching a press conference from Bloomberg. I know, because as a non-NYU person,  I am allowed to show my identification to security and use the bathroom downstairs.

The first few nights after Sandy, there were so many police vehicles and ambulances that I hardly needed the flashlight or candle. On Halloween, the moonlight looks like snow on the ground. I don’t hear any dogs barking and few cars are on the streets. At home, with my day’s haul of apples, broccoli, carrots, bread, and candles, I arrange four tea lights in the bottom of a stainless steel frying pan. I wonder, “What would Martha Stewart say about this?” and for the moment, I feel grateful. Lucky.

The next day brings more new faces and stories. We are so immersed in charging and downloading and updating and sharing passwords, that we almost don’t notice that dusk has turned to darkness. A sequined performer on stilts beckons waves of students inside to a Hurricane Sandy soiree. Big band orchestra music wafts out of the library.

And so life rushes in and continues after the storm.

I walk home on dark streets, following the lights of hot dog vendors and food carts. Clicking my flashlight on and off, I look like a drunken firefly as I make my way in a city that resembles an abandoned movie set.

On Canal Street, traffic cops attempt to slow down cars by waving signal wands that look like light sabers. Maybe they’d have better luck if they hired ravers to dance with glow sticks. “Aren’t you afraid?” I ask one. “These streets are dangerous even when the traffic lights are working. Has anyone been hit?” “Not yet,” she replies. “That’s why we try to stand off to the side.” I nod knowingly. My son and I have sat with pedestrians who’ve been struck by cars and SUVs, and waited with them until the ambulance arrived. And that’s when it’s been light outside.

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