"We are fed up, and we are pissed off," community advocate Don Lee said at the rally. "Enough is enough."
Salman Muflihi, 23, is currently charged with second-degree attempted murder, first- and second-degree assault, and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon -- even though the NYPD had changed its initial recommendation and called for hate crime charges.
Police say Muflihi pulled an eight-inch kitchen knife and stabbed the 36-year-old man while walking on Worth Street next to the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse in Chinatown around 6:20 p.m. last Thursday.
Muflihi then ran to a security guard outside the nearby Manhattan District Attorney's Office building on Hogan Place, telling the guard, "I just stabbed someone. Where are the police at?"
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He told detectives he stabbed the victim "because he didn't like the way he looked at him" and also said to an officer, "I stabbed that guy. If he dies, he dies. I don't give a f--k."
The victim, who was stabbed in the back, remains in the hospital in critical condition after losing one of his kidneys and his adrenal gland, and suffering damage to his liver.
"Our communities are living in fear and anger and frustration," City Council candidate Richard Lee said. "Frustration because we see these incidents happening to our friends, our neighbors, our families, yet no hate crime charges are being brought forth."
Hate crime charges were not initially expected, but then the NYPD revealed that one of Muflihi's previous arrests was for allegedly punching another Asian man.
That led police to believe the the attack may have been racially motivated, but the Manhattan District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the stabbing as a hate crime.
Investigators have nothing so far to indicate the defendant ever saw the victim's face prior to the attack, because he was wearing a hat and a mask, a law enforcement official told ABC News.
Now, the League of Asian Americans of New York joined with several Asian American candidates for New York City Council to demand the DA prosecute the Chinatown stabbing as a hate crime.
They say if the suspect admitted the victim made eye contact, then at least he saw his eyes and could tell he was Asian.
"He admitted that he did not like the way he looked at him," City Council candidate Susan Lee said. "So there is no way why the DA would drop the charges."
Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked about all of these recent attacks against Asian Americans and if some of these incidents have more to do with mental health or crimes of opportunity, and if adding hate crime charges would add to racial tensions.
"We can't prejudge each incident, we need the facts," he said. "But that said, there is clearly a horrible trend right now, disgusting trend in this city and in this nation of attacks on Asian Americans. Most horribly what we saw in San Francisco, (where a) man was killed just walking down the street. No provocation, no reason, just killed because he was Asian American."
The District Attorney's Office responded to a request for comment with the following statement:
"The defendant's statement that he 'didn't like the way (the victim) looked at him' does not establish a hate crime, when the evidence to date shows that he ran up to the victim from behind and may have never actually seen his face," it read. "As we do in every case, we are continuing to investigate and may bring additional charges if warranted."
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Still, the string of recent violence against persons of Asian descent has many living in fear.
Jennifer Tam is the co-founder of the grassroots organization, "Welcome to Chinatown."
"In normal times, I'd be going for an outdoor run, grabbing groceries, grabbing dinner, something like that," she said. "I don't that anymore."
Tam says after the Chinatown stabbing, waking up the next day felt different.
"It's impossible to go around the neighborhood without sensing some sort of fear," she said. "And we've been feeling this way for the last year or so...I've never felt unsafe living in Chinatown until the last year, seeing what has happened to friends, to our elderly community."
Police say Mulfihi was also arrested in September of 2019 for allegedly assaulting his brother, also in Brooklyn.
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