A 28-year-old man has been charged with hate crimes in New York City in connection with a spree of attacks against seven Asian American women.
The New York police department arrested Steven Zajonc outside a library in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday evening after two security guards recognized him from surveillance videos.
Roshanta Williams, a New York Public Library guard who works at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, saw the suspect on Wednesday morning and realized that he frequented the library in the past months, according to an NYPL press release.
Another guard, Lt Elmirel Cephas, told the New York Times that he had seen Zajonc, who is believed to be homeless, multiple times in the library in recent months, often six to seven days a week. According to Cephas, Zajonc would stay in the library from opening to closing hours and would keep to himself warm, occasionally getting up to go to the bathroom where he would change into slippers.
“I was definitely surprised that it was him,” Cephas said.
Iris Weinshall, the library’s chief operating officer, praised the guards, saying: “Our guards have the extremely challenging job, especially under recent circumstances, of keeping our branches safe and welcoming for all New Yorkers.
“They do this extremely well every day, but today went above and beyond to help the NYPD keep our streets safer. We are so proud (but not surprised) of their quick thinking and good work,” she added.
Zajonc, who is originally from Florida, has been charged with seven counts of assault and attempted assault classified as hate crimes, as well as with seven counts of aggravated harassment and harassment.
According to police, Zajonc is currently in custody and has declined to make a statement.
On Sunday evening, the suspect punched, shoved or elbowed the women without provocation in the span of two hours. Several women were left with facial swelling and cut lips. At least one had to be taken to a hospital for medical assistance.
The attacks come as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face an alarming spike in hate crimes across the city. Earlier this week, the family of GuiYing Ma, an Asian woman who was struck by a man with a rock last fall in Queens, announced she had died after 10 weeks in a coma. Ma is the fourth Asian American in two months to die in New York as a result of violence against members of the AAPI community.
According to data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-AAPI hate crime was up 339% across the US last year.