Flushing Rallies for Late Chinese Masseuse 

Yang Song’s mother, at left, and both (behind megaphone) at a rally on Dec. 17. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

A rally was held in Flushing on Dec. 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, for Yang Song, a Chinese massage parlor worker who fell from a building to her death during a police sting operation last month. Although the police said there was no officer in her room when the incident happened, Yang’s family members have doubts and asked the police to disclose the complete truth. Representatives from the nonprofit organizations that organized the rally expressed sympathy for Yang and called for the legalization of the sex services industry.

“She did it (her job) for survival. Now she lost her life,” said Yumei Shi and Hai Song, Yang’s mother and brother who attended the rally where they thanked the participants for being caring. Shi said while sobbing that she still doesn’t believe her daughter jumped from the building by herself. Hai said they haven’t contacted the police formally yet because they want to seek legal advice from the attorneys first, and they’ll decide what to do next afterward. He said it takes time to find a good lawyer, and the language barrier makes it harder for them. They haven’t decided which attorney they’ll hire yet. But he and his mother are determined to find out the truth.

Michael Chu, the head of the Flushing Neighborhood Watch Team which has been helping Shi and Hai, said the family’s suspicions are not unreasonable. Chu said he went to take a look of the fourth floor room from which Yang fell and found there is no place around the window where one can stand on. So it’s not likely that Yang jumped out of that window in order to flee from the police. What’s more, before she fell Yang had purchased a flight ticket to go back to China to visit her family. It was not possible that she committed suicide [he said].
Shi mentioned that before she died, Yang was forced to provide sex services to a man who said he was a plainclothes police officer and flashed his badge and gun. And Yang even went to the police precinct to point out the man. Hai said on the previous day that the police once tried to recruit Yang to be an informant for their investigations of illegal massage parlors, but Yang declined. Chu said at the rally that he received an anonymous letter written in English by someone who said he or she is a close friend of Yang. The letter confirmed that Cici (Yang) was robbed of her money and cellphone by an undercover police officer or officers before, and claimed that “her death was not an accident.” It also said the incident may relate to certain police officers.
“Illegal massage parlors tarnish the reputation of our community. I am against them. But all lives are equal,” said Chu. And he said some inconsistencies in the case have rightly triggered the suspicions of Zhang’s family. To thoroughly investigate the case is to show respect for life and human rights.
A dozen or so members and supporters of The Sex Workers Project attended the rally in front of the 109th precinct and chanted “we want justice.” “We call on the authority to protect sex workers and the police to stop arresting and intimidating them immediately,” said the organizer of the rally, who wore sunglasses and only wanted to be called “Red.”
Red said she worked in Chicago to protect sex workers before she came to New York a few months ago. She said Yang’s tragedy is rooted in the current code that considers sex services to be a crime. Therefore she called for the legalization of the industry and for the police to stop enforcement against sex workers to avoid the tragedy from happening again.
Jessica Penaranda, a representative of The Sex Workers Project, said that arrests of sex workers increased 27% between 2012 and 2016. She said many sex workers work to make ends meet, and that they shouldn’t feel ashamed. But now these people have been suffering from discrimination, humiliation and violence. She asked the government and law enforcement to protect sex workers and offer them a safe environment in which to make a living.

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