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At Lunar New Year Parade, protesters roar like tigers against Chinatown megajail plan

BY DASHIELL ALLEN | Megajail protesters mixed with dragon dancers as thousands of New Yorkers filled the streets of Chinatown Sunday afternoon to celebrate the start of the Year of the Tiger.

Starting at Mott and Hester Streets, local politicians, community groups and dragon dancers made their way through the neighborhood’s narrow streets before dispersing into Sara Roosevelt Park.

From right, Mayor Eric Adams, Governor Kathy Hochul and Senator Chuck Schumer all attended the parade. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

For some, the parade was the perfect opportunity to show their adamant opposition to the city’s plan to build a new jail in Chinatown — and, in some cases, to a proposed homeless shelter on East Broadway.

Chi Loek, a board member of the charitable nonprofit UA3, stood in front of a stage filled with elected officials — including Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul — with a sign reading, in big letters, “No New Jail.”

Councilmember Christopher Marte has been a leading voice against the planned Chinatown megajail, which would rise from 30 to 40 stories tall. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

“I’m against the jail because we can put $8.3 billion to better use,” he told The Village Sun, “to support the economic development of Chinatown, to support the health and well-being of all communities. We can put the money into mental health services. After 9/11, Chinatown has been on the downhill, so we really need all elected officials to stop the jail.”

Demonstrators tried to get their message through to Mayor Adams. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

Loek’s colleague William added, “We’ve got to learn to love one another during this crazy economic time. You can build a jail anywhere, but it’s better to help people with mental illness, so you have less hatred like violent crime. We have to go backward and dig deep and build our foundation together.”

A lion dancer at the parade. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

He pointed to UA3’s work handing out COVID-19 PPE and distributing food as examples of community-building.

In their remarks, both Adams and Hochul tried to convey an uplifting message of unity.

Protesters turned out in numbers to decry the contentious Chinatown megajail project, a carry-over from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio. New Mayor Adams, while on the campaign trail, had pledged he would not support building more jails. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

“What’s great about New York is that we have 8.8 million people and 30 million opinions and that’s what makes New York City an amazing place,” said Adams, amid audible heckling.

“We saw the anti-Asian violence,” he said. “We saw how many people were impacted by a lack of support. But we’re coming back and pushing for this community in a real way. That’s why it’s important to be united as one city.”

Governor Hochul, center, marching in the parade. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)
(Photo by Dashiell Allen)

“I walked these streets and this was a ghost town for too long — but we are back,” Hochul said, pledging to invest $10 million into social services for the community.

Jennifer Tran, one of the protesters, is the mother of three children who attend P.S. 124, Young Wang School on Division Street, four blocks away from the Manhattan Detention Complex.

She held up a sign reading, “No Mega Jail by Our School.”

(Photo by Dashiell Allen)

Parade-friendly activist Marni Halasa, who lives near Hudson Yards and ran in last year’s Council District 3 Democratic primary, participated in the event in one of her typically colorful costumes. She said she was heartened to see the protesters.

Activist and colorful paradegoer Marni Halasa said she was glad to see the megajail protesters out in force at Sunday’s Lunar New Year Parade. (Photo by Milo Hess)

“What I really was inspired was seeing this parade — always well-attended, colorful and joyous — become a venue for political protest,” she said. “And I think this is happening because this community has been hit so hard from Asian hate crimes, the pandemic, the gentrification of Chinatown that prices Chinese New Yorkers out of their neighborhoods and the refusal of local government to implement real reform. They are simply fed up.”

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