‘We did fail Christina’: Locals and pols hold Chinatown vigil for murder victim Christina Yuna Lee

As the Chinatown community struggles to come to terms with the brutal murder of Christina Yuna Lee, locals held a vigil Tuesday for the woman who was savagely stolen from her neighbors.

Standing in a huddled circle in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the corner of Chrystie and Hester Streets, a legion of mourners bowed their heads while gripping flowers in memory of Lee. The sorrow could be felt emitting from the crowd, still confusion trumped feelings of anguish as many asked why Lee had to die. Moreover, why has the AAPI community become human punching bags?

City Council member Julie Won emphasized that Lee was a young Korean woman who made a conscious decision that night to take an Uber home—despite a subway stop being located just down the block from her apartment at 111 Chrystie Street because she felt unsafe.

A women clings to a flower during the vigil. Photo by Dean Moses
A large crowd gathered to remember Lee. Photo by Dean Moses

“We as Asian women are walking around in the level of fear that we have never had to before in my whole entire life in New York City. This is not acceptable. And it is not okay for us to forget why it is that Asian American women are being targeted? Why is it that when Asian Americans are in these violent crimes, why is it seniors and why is it women? Why are you targeting the most vulnerable in our communities? Why is that? What have we done societally? What have we done culturally to paint Asian women and Asian seniors to be somebody that you think are easy prey? What have we done,” Won asked.

“We need to take it a step further to make sure that we are truly addressing what is at hand. If we continue to have homelessness, if we continue to have non-supportive housing, if we don’t have actual substance abuse resources for people who are struggling in our streets, then there will continue to be violence and we will continue to see violence in our streets towards the most vulnerable and we need to make real investments as a city. We need to acknowledge the things that have been failures on our part of government officials and as a society and as a community,” Won added.

Lee herself was remembered as an energetic woman with so much life and ambition, inspiring her colleagues and eager to work with others—yet all of that was extinguished so cruelly.  Comptroller Brad Lander offered the Lee’s family and her community his deepest condolences as he described how special the young woman was.

The vigil begged for the hate to stop. Photo by Dean Moses
A man lifts a flower as he watches the vigil. Photo by Dean Moses
“Asian Lives Matter” a mask read. Photo by Dean Moses

“First and foremost, we come today with broken hearts. All of us who have daughters, all of us must care about young people. This is just the worst possible nightmare,” Lander began, “To have that just horrifically stolen from her family, from this community, from all of us it’s shattering, and it’s heartbreaking. We all relate to it as human beings.”

Lander stated that Lee’s life was taken due to cracks in society that have widened exponentially with the pandemic, particularly homelessness and mental illness which has continued to grow with no adequate responses. Admitting that local government failed her, he added that despite the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, he has not seen an expansion of programs to reach out to individuals and confront the gaps in mental health and supportive housing.

 “We did fail Christina, and we know we are going to be back here again if we don’t change what we are doing. We need action,” Lander said, “I’ve got to do more. This city has to do more, so that we are not just here again.”

The community marched as one with followers in their hands. Photo by Dean Moses
An Asian man holds a sign reading “We are all Americans” as he lays flowers in Lee’s memories. Photo by Dean Moses

Many at the vigil say they feel let down by elected officials who have failed to make meaningful change in order to protect the AAPI community and the city as a whole from harm. With shootings, stabbings, robberies, and other violent crimes becoming daily occurrences in the Big Apple, residents say enough is enough.

“I stand against senseless violence in our community, for far too long it has gone on. We have no place for violence in our communities. Not in Chinatown, not in Jamaica, not in Brownville, not anywhere in the city do we stand for senseless violence in our community. We have a serious problem of mental health and homelessness and others that perpetuate the issue of violence that is happening in New York City,” said Kevin Livingston, a community activist.

Following the vigil, community members lifted flowers above their heads and marched to Lee’s apartment, chanting, “Christina, with you” in unison as they, one by one, placed flowers outside her apartment building.

A man uses police tape tie signs outside Lee’s home. Photo by Dean Moses
Lee’s residence. Photo by Dean Moses