Outside, John Acevedo heard a commotion.
Perhaps not so unusual for a New Yorker, but unheard of in his Sunset Park, Brooklyn, neighborhood, which is off the beaten path. The 20-year-old could hear sirens on the street and helicopters flying overhead. He found himself in the midst of chaos when he stepped outside his front door.
Acevedo lives across the street from the 36th Street subway station, where a gunman opened fire with two smoke grenades and at least 33 shots at commuters, injuring ten people just hours before.
“It’s really surreal for us,” Acevedo, of his neighborhood in Brooklyn’s southwest, told reporters. “This entire neighborhood is a community, and crime isn’t something you’d expect to find here. I’m at a loss for words.”
Neighbors held each other’s hands across the fences that separated their homes in the aftermath. Others sat on their stoops, stunned. The more than 135,000 residents of this tight-knit community — about a third of whom are Asian and a third Hispanic, according to US Census data — are used to hearing about this kind of violence in other neighborhoods. Not here, not so close to their sanctuary, where everyone is referred to as “family.”
When the sound of sirens flooded their home during breakfast, Nicholas Sciammarella and his partner, Anthony Valentino, realized something was wrong, too.
Valentino went out to see what was going on at the station because the couple lives a block away. Manager Elia Tapia, 38, of the L&E Deli Grocery, just two blocks from the station, was processing it all. She has been a resident of Sunset Park for the past 20 years.
If you ask a Sunset Park resident to describe their neighborhood, they’ll most likely say it’s a calm, friendly place that’s ideal for raising a family. Thanks to a growing population of immigrants from China’s Fujian province, the area has become a part of Brooklyn’s Chinatown.
It’s only a short subway ride from Manhattan, but it feels like a completely different city. On a clear day, Sunset Park, which is located on the waterfront, provides green space as well as views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and even New Jersey.
Tapia has lost the sense of security that she had always associated with her neighborhood.
The shooting at the 36th Street subway station occurred during a period of increased violence in New York City. According to figures released by the New York Police Department on Sunday, more than 360 people have been shot this year in 322 shooting incidents. There have been 8.4 percent more shootings this year than this time last year.
According to the NYPD, general crime on public transportation has increased by 68 percent since last year.
According to data released by the NYPD, crime in the 72nd Precinct, which includes Sunset Park, has risen rapidly as well. Overall crime is up more than 103 percent this year through Sunday compared to this time last year and up 70 percent from 2020, with burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft seeing the biggest increases. As of Sunday, there had been one shooting incident in the precinct this year, the same as last year at this time.
Tuesday also felt like an attack on Lilea Ng’s home, she told CNN. Ng, a Chinese American who was born in Panama, moved to New York City 20 years ago in search of the American dream.
She claims that her dream is now turning into a nightmare.
Ng avoided riding the subway or any public transportation even before Tuesday’s violence, citing the rising violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic. Leaving New York had never occurred to her before, but the possibility now looms in the back of her mind.
Neighbors gathered at Sunset Park’s Minnie’s Bar, a local favorite, to discuss similar sentiments. Despite the fears, heartache, and confusion, the energy inside the dimly lit bar was still comforting — proof that this community is in it together, despite the fears, heartache, and confusion.
Guillermo Tejeta, a 30-year resident, described it like this while sitting at the bar with his newborn baby on his lap. Tejeta was driving home from daycare when the chaos erupted around him: police officers poured into the street, halting traffic and making room for first responders.