Community members from about 500 Asian organizations and groups gathered in downtown Manhattan on Sunday afternoon to denounce anti-Asian racism as well as the rise of bias incidents against people of Asian descent amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our purpose is to regain peace,” John Chan, the event organizer and convener of the Coalition of Asian-Americans for Civil Rights (CAACR), said during the rally. “We don’t need violence, we don’t need racism, and we call on local law enforcement agencies to pay attention to Asian hate crimes and Asian racism, and severely punish hate crimes.”

The “NYC Stop Asian Hate Rally”, organized by the Asian American Community Empowerment (BRACE) and CAACR, drew a massive crowd at Foley Square in Manhattan to start the march, which would pass through City Hall Park and over the Brooklyn Bridge before ending at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, according to an event flyer.

Protesters forced the temporary closure of all Brooklyn-bound lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday, New York City officials said.

“I want to be here today to let you know very clearly that when the haters come for the Asian American community, they come for all of us, including me,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is running for mayor. “I want you to know that you’re not alone. Because when other people and other groups have been attacked and called out, Asian community leadership has always been with everybody. And now it’s our turn to be with you.”

Sunday’s rally was noticed beyond the Asian community.

“My best friend is an Asian. She is like a sister to me, and I consider her as my family. As this happened after Black Lives Matter, I feel that I have to support her because she did the same for me,” said Quianna, a schoolteacher. “If you don’t stand for something, you ain’t for anything.”

Min Wang met her husband in China several years ago when he was abroad studying Chinese medicine. Standing by her husband, who is black, Wang was holding their 4-year-old son, who was wearing a police uniform and a police cap with a badge that said “police department”.

“He said he wants to catch bad guys,” Wang said, laughing and looking at her son. “Even though he doesn’t know what’s going on.

“I have been here for seven years. Before the pandemic, we never had any issue with race. I was not aware of that. I’m feeling very anxious now. The country is divided,” Wang said.

When talking about the conflicts between Asian and African Americans and the fact that many of the perpetrators of Asian bias incidents are black, Wang said that people shouldn’t pit the races against each other.

“My husband, I love him, and we love each other deeply. He loves my family and respects Asian Americans. There’s no way to say, ‘Black people are bad,’ just like you don’t want to hear people say, ‘Asian people are bad.'”

Skyy Zou, who is from Brooklyn, held a sign that read “Stop Asian Hate”, painted by his daughter Betti Zou. The 5-year-old had drawn an assortment of images, including an American flag as well as a depiction of the Statue of Liberty holding a book inscribed with “liberty, equality, and civil rights”. She also included in her sign a smiling girl named Betti and a man with “Dad” written next to it.

“The Statue of Liberty stands for equality and freedom, but my daughter wrote: ‘She is crying.’ Why? My daughter knows what is happening around us. At the same time, she also painted those flowers and houses to show that bright future in her mind,” Zou said.

New York City has been plagued by a series of anti-Asian attacks in recent weeks. On Saturday, a convenience store worker in Manhattan became the city’s latest suspected victim of an anti-Asian crime. His attacker spewed angry words at him and said, “You Chinese mother——!” as he punched him, police said Sunday.

Police said initially the assault was not being classified as a hate crime because the attack was over “a previous larceny and dispute”. But the department said later Sunday that it was being investigated as a bias crime.

On March 29, a 65-year-old Filipino woman was physically and verbally attacked in Midtown Manhattan. A parolee convicted of killing his mother nearly two decades ago was charged with two counts of second-degree assault as a hate crime and one count of first-degree attempted assault as a hate crime. He was held without bail.

The NYPD said that it had recorded 26 anti-Asian incidents this year, including 12 assaults. Those include a 68-year-old man punched on a subway train, a 37-year-old woman assaulted on the way to an anti-Asian violence protest and a 54-year-old woman hit in the face with a metal pipe.