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Chinatown Residents Demand Answers Following Arrest of Park Musician

By Patrick Hedlund | May 26, 2011 3:13pm | Updated on May 27, 2011 7:06am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

SOHO — Chinatown residents struggled Wednesday to get answers from police regarding the controversial arrest of a man this month for playing amplified music in a public park.

The May 8 incident has stirred outrage in the Chinese-American community since being posted on YouTube, garnering more than 62,000 hits since it was posted the same day of the arrest.

"Who's held accountable when things like this happen?" Esther Wang, of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, asked top officials from Chinatown's 5th Precinct at a community council meeting Wednesday night.

Some in the community feel police used excessive force when they handcuffed the man for playing music in Columbus Park without required permits. His face appeared bloody after police lifted him from the ground.

A still image from the video shows the man surrounded by police after being handcuffed.
A still image from the video shows the man surrounded by police after being handcuffed.
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The video appears to show multiple police officers handcuffing the man as a crowd of onlookers begins to swarm the them in protest, forcing one officer to threaten using mace on angry park-goers.

NYPD officials at the meeting said they couldn't speak specifically about the matter because it is currently being investigated by Internal Affairs, but they emphasized that the man had been warned several times prior to the arrest.

Inspector Gin Yee of the 5th Precinct said the man arrested did not possess the proper permits to perform in the park. Yee added that he was told to stop twice by police before the arrest occurred.

City musicians need permits from both the precinct and Parks Department to use speakers in public park space, and sources in the community said Columbus Park's performers have often been aggressive with law enforcement when told to stop performing.

Other attendees at the meeting wanted to know how the results of the NYPD's internal investigation would be disseminated to the community, given the language and cultural barriers that many Chinatown residents face.

One Chinatown native, who created a Facebook page encouraging upset locals to write their elected officials after seeing the video online, said a younger generation of Chinese-Americans has been reacting to the incident more strongly than their elders.

"The biggest difference is that the young people are more willing to speak out than the older folks," said Jennifer Li, 21, whose Facebook page received more than 10,000 followers before she disabled it due to negative comments. "My own dad said, 'Please don't talk, you're going to give us trouble.'"

While acknowledging she still didn't have all the facts regarding the arrest, Li said she hoped the incident received enough attention to "make sure that (it) never happens again."

Police are shown in the video subduing the man while trying to handcuff him.
Police are shown in the video subduing the man while trying to handcuff him.
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"In general, more diplomacy ... need[s] to be applied, instead of resorting to a more violent form of arrest," she said. "Chinatown is not a community that looks for trouble. They just want to go about their daily business."