Hundreds gathered at Portland’s Payson Park on Tuesday to support the state’s Asian community and those who have been assaulted or killed recently in a surge of anti-Asian violence nationally.

Speakers at the vigil against anti-Asian violence called on the greater Portland community to condemn the hatred and make clear it will not be tolerated.

“Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we as a community stand together against hate,” Thomas Ling, vice president of Unified Asian Communities, told the crowd, which exceeded 300 people.

Tuesday’s vigil comes just two weeks after a Portland woman and her 12-year-old daughter were accosted by a man while waiting in line for an oil change on Forest Avenue.

Students from Portland schools hold up signs showing recent victims of violence, including victims of the mass shooting this month in Georgia, during moment of silence at Tuesday’s vigil against anti-Asian violence. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Navii Chhay, who is of Asian descent, said she and her daughter were inside their vehicle when the man approached and started yelling at them to “go back to your country.” In an interview before she read a statement to the crowd, Chhay said she was “horrified” by the man’s behavior.

Since the incident on March 15, the Maine Attorney General’s Office has said it will file a civil rights complaint against the Portland man accused of attacking Chhay and and her daughter. After the incident, Troy Sprague, 47, was arrested on charges of  criminal mischief and interfering with constitutional and civil rights.

He has been released on bail. The attorney general’s complaint seeks a protection order for Chhay and her family that prohibits Sprague from having any contact with them or violating the Maine Civil Rights Act. According to Attorney General Aaron Frey, Sprague kicked a side mirror off Chhay’s car, and a piece of debris struck Chhay’s daughter.

“We are bearing witness to an unconscionable increase in hate crimes being perpetrated against individuals of Asian descent in our nation,” Frey said in a statement. “We will not tolerate such attacks in Maine and we will act swiftly to address allegations like those received last week in Portland.”

Nationally, hate crimes against Asian-Americans have have been on the rise.

Emily Cheung, a Deering High School junior and a student representative on Portland’s school board, speaks about her experience with racism to over 100 people gathered Tuesday at Payson Park for a vigil against anti-Asian violence. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

An Asian American woman was attacked in New York City on Monday by a man who repeatedly kicked her. Two people nearby, who appeared to be security guards, did not intervene, according to surveillance footage released by police. The 65-year-old woman was walking a few blocks from Times Square when the man approached and kicked her in the stomach, knocking her to the ground, police said. The man then stomped on the woman’s face several times while shouting anti-Asian insults, police said. He then casually walked away, the footage shows.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, is accused of killing eight people, six of them Asian, at three Atlanta-area massage parlors in an attack that sent terror through the Asian-American community, which has increasingly been targeted during the coronavirus pandemic. It was the worst mass killing in the U.S. in almost two years.

The Atlanta-area killings horrified Asian-Americans, and was part of a growing number of assaults coinciding with the spread of COVID-19 across the United States. The virus was first identified in China, and former President Donald Trump and others have used racially charged terms to describe it.

Chhay, who was introduced as a business owner and photographer, was only able to read part of her statement to the vigil crowd before she was overcome with emotion. Her daughter finished reading her mother’s statement.

“I thought Portland was a tucked away safe zone to live,” Chhay wrote, adding that she was aware of attacks on other Asian-Americans across the country. “I never dreamed this could happen to me. I was attacked for no other reason than my Asian heritage.

Chia-ju Hsieh and Scott Lewis of Kennebunk take part in Tuesday’s vigil against anti-Asian violence. Lewis said he and his wife came to Portland because they wanted people who are part of targeted minority communities to know that they stand with them. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We have been victims for far too long and I refuse to be a victim,” Chhay said. “There is strength in numbers and we need to let the world know that we are not going to take this anymore.”

“We are heartbroken,” said another vigil speaker, Chan Himm, referring to the spate of anti-Asian hate incidents. Himm is the former president and chief executive officer of Unified Asian Communities. “In Maine we are also dealing with anti-Asian hate. It (the attack on Chhay) is a stark reminder that we are not immune to hate.”

Several Portland Public School students held signs showing photographs of the Asian-Americans who have been killed or attacked in recent weeks. Each student read a brief profile of the victim and what happened to them.

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