Within minutes of being pepper-sprayed in SoHo, Yaeji Kim knew she had been the victim of a random attack — and possibly a hate crime.
As she made her way home, still crying from the burning in her eyes and temporary blindness, Kim tried to push the severity of the Feb. 16 incident out of her mind.
Yet the more she thought about the man who rolled down the window of a dark-colored sedan on W. Houston St. and pointed a canister at her, the more frightened she felt.
“When it first happened, I felt helpless. And as I was walking home … I was crying because it burned, but [because] I was also feeling bullied,” 30-year-old Kim, a pharmacist and professor who grew up in South Korea, told the Daily News on Thursday.
“I tried to downplay it … I wasn’t even going to report it. But I think I am more traumatized than I thought,” she said. “It’s hard for me to walk down Houston Street … and whenever I’m on the subway I’m really tense, and [have] a panic attack.”
“I feel targeted,” she continued. “I wish I didn’t feel this [way]. I wish it didn’t affect me as much as it has.”
Kim, who reported the attack to police on Feb. 18, said she did not recognize the passenger who pepper-sprayed her or the driver of the sedan, both of whom she claims were white men in their 20s or 30s.
The attack has not yet been ruled a hate crime, though Kim said she has been in close contact with the NYPD Asian Hate Crimes Task Force. There have been no arrests.
The incident is the latest in a string of random attacks on Asian-Americans across the city.
Police have made 18 arrests in 28 incidents of “COVID-related” hate crimes against Asians since the start of the pandemic, though the commanding officer of the task force acknowledged many more incidents have likely gone unreported.
City officials have responded by directing the 500 additional officers deployed to the subway system to help combat bias, and Mayor de Blasio has vowed to meet with community leaders about the issue.
Yet for Kim, an HIV pharmacist at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and a professor at Touro College of Pharmacy, the lingering fear of another unexpected ambush has left her on edge.
“As an Asian woman I have experienced racism but not [to] this extent … I don’t think we were expecting this kind of hate towards us,” said Kim. “Now we are worried about going outside and taking the train and doing normal things.
“If there was logic to this, I think it would be easier to solve,” she said. “But I don’t think there’s logic to this right now. It’s just chaotic.”