Opinion: What’s a Life Worth in Chinatown?

(Photo by Julius Motal for Voices of NY)

(Photo by Julius Motal for Voices of NY)

On the night of Oct. 30, on Canal Street as a cold wind blew, another life was crushed under the wheels of a car. The body lay on the road, covered by a white sheet. The crammed plastic bags scattered around the body revealed the identity of the dead – he was a homeless man. He was hit by a speeding car, a mere two steps from the sidewalk.

Passersby stopped, murmured, and pulled out their phones to snap pictures. But the traffic on Canal Street went back to normal within an hour. The next day, the police erected a billboard at the location to solicit tips from witnesses of this hit-and-run accident. But the billboard didn’t draw much attention on this busy road, where people were preparing to celebrate Halloween.

Not far from the scene of the accident, Mayor de Blasio had just a few days earlier, on Oct. 27, signed legislation to lower the speed limit in this city to 25 miles per hour, effective Nov. 7. The mayor hopes the new speed limit [down from 30 mph] will help to fulfill the goal of Vision Zero – ending traffic fatalities and injuries in New York City.

In Chinatown, it is clearly only a “vision,” at least for now. In the past two months, four Chinese pedestrians were killed in car accidents.

When he was campaigning for office, de Blasio spoke of the “tale of two cities.” His vow to reduce inequality in the city and narrow the gap between rich and poor won him the support of many voters. But he is disappointing them. Not only does the “tale of two cities” persist, but de Blasio has also been criticized by the mainstream media for creating a “tale of three cities” – for neglecting even to attend to controversy within his own circle, such as the controversy caused by the police-hating ex-con boyfriend of his wife’s chief of staff.

On Sept. 18, 59-year-old Jill Tarlov, who was the wife of a high-ranking executive of CBS, was hit by a bike in Central Park on the way back home after shopping. She was pronounced brain-dead a day later. The accident caused an outcry in Uptown neighborhoods. The next day, residents waved the newspaper that printed a picture of the pool of the victim’s blood and yelled at bicyclists. Police officers were dispatched there to maintain the order. The council member of the district quickly introduced legislation requiring bicyclists to lower their speed in parks. Some residents even called for resuming an earlier ban on vehicles in Central Park.

The bill is still under discussion. But police have been stationed at busy traffic spots in the park since mid-September and issued more than 800 tickets.

This is in sharp contrast to Chinatown. The victims there include an elderly woman who was doing her morning exercise, another elderly woman who made ends meet by recycling bottles, an elderly resident on his way to a senior center, and a homeless man. Their deaths didn’t trigger any protests. No one has been charged so far. There has been no spike in ticketing for speeding. No new legislation has been proposed. Council member Margaret Chin complained via the Chinese media that the drivers were not charged. State Sen. Daniel Squadron asked the Department of Transportation to repair the roads at seven intersections in Chinatown. That was it.

Is this enough?

Isn’t the life of an ordinary person as valuable as that of a privileged person? Why, in the same city, under the same mayor, the same police commissioner, and the same law, are events treated so differently? When will lawmakers representing Chinatown stop uttering empty words and make real changes through legislation, so that the ripples of progress can be turned into waves, and the fatalities in Chinatown can be treated in the same way as those in Central Park?

And when will Vision Zero be realized in Chinatown?

[Editor’s note: This commentary appeared in the Nov. 1 edition of Sing Tao Daily. On Nov. 10, Council member Chin called for tougher enforcement of Section 19-190 against drivers who hit pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way and said she is drafting a bill to require a Department of Transportation study of how pedestrian safety is negatively impacted along New York City’s major truck routes.]

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