BY SARAH FERGUSON | Police have identified the 67-year-old woman killed by a tow truck in the East Village while crossing the street Monday as Merle Ratner, a longtime East Village resident and prominent advocate for peace and reparations for Vietnam, as well as other left-wing causes.
Ratner was struck in the crosswalk around 7 p.m. when the tow truck, traveling southbound on Avenue C, made a left turn onto E. 10th Street.
She was pronounced dead at the scene. The 59-year-old driver of the truck, owned by Timmy’s Automotive in East Harlem, remained at the scene and was given a breathalyzer test but has not been charged, pending the police investigation.
Ratner’s body, covered by a white sheet, lay in the intersection for nearly two hours as detectives blocked off the scene, causing a backlog of M.T.A. buses to collect along E. 10th Street and Avenue C.
Ngô Thanh Nhàn, her husband of 40 years, said he was devastated by the news.
“The police found her ID in her bag and contacted me last night,” Nhan said, when reached at the morgue Tuesday morning. “You can see her bag lying in the street in the photo by the Daily News.”
Nhan, who lived with her in an apartment on E. Fourth Street, said Ratner had been shopping for groceries to have dinner with an elderly friend on E. 14th Street Monday when she was struck down.
“She loved the life and food of Loisaida, especially Puerto Rican and Mexican food,” he said.
A linguist and Vietnamese folk musician, Nhan said he met Ratner while he was studying at New York University, where he received his Ph.D. in linguistics.
Together they co-founded the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign to press the U.S. government and chemical companies Dow and Monsanto to compensate the people of Vietnam for the legacy of cancers and birth defects caused by the use of the toxic exfoliant Agent Orange during the war.
But Ratner’s activism stretched back decades earlier. Born in the Bronx in 1956, she was raised by a family of Jewish labor agitators. In an interview with the New-York Historical Society, Ratner described getting arrested at age 13 outside the United Nations to protest the “genocide” of the Vietnamese people by the U.S. government.
She quickly became entrenched in the antiwar movement, as shown in a 1973 photo of her protesting alongside Father Daniel Berrigan outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral to denounce the secret bombing of Cambodia.
In a 2017 street interview with the blog EV Grieve, Ratner said she moved to the East Village in the early 1980s because she “wanted to live in a multiracial, working-class neighborhood.”
She served as program coordinator for the International Commission for Labor Rights and a board member of the Laundry Workers Center, which campaigns on behalf of low-wage laundry and food service workers in New York and New Jersey.
She also served on the board of the Brecht Forum, the former leftist cultural center in Greenwich Village, and was a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a group of socialists who broke with the Community Party USA in 1991.
But Ratner remained a steadfast supporter of both the people of Vietnam and its communist-led government. On Feb. 2, just three days before her death, the government-controlled Vietnam News Agency featured an interview with Merle in which she reportedly praised Vietnam for adopting a “market-oriented socialist economy.”
“She led many tours with activists and veterans going back to Vietnam to show solidarity with the people there,” said her husband Nhan. “She loved life and was always thinking about ways to build a society that supports people, not profit.”