“He was so happy,” Mr. Wilner said. “Of course, it puts a lot of pressure on him to keep working, keep things coming in. But he’s very excited.”
The racial epithet
As the attack went on, Mr. Unno said he was saved by a woman who called for an ambulance, which took him to Harlem Hospital Center. He was in shock from the beating and from the unwillingness of bystanders to step in. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. He could not move his arm, and would have to return for surgery. At home, he said, he felt like his wife had “two babies to take care of.”
On Oct. 3, Mr. Jennings created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for medical bills and other expenses. Since the start of the pandemic in March, Mr. Unno, like other musicians, had been unable to earn money by performing. Now his downtime was indefinite, with a baby at home and bills piling up.
The GoFundMe campaign, which made no mention of any racial remarks made by the attackers, surpassed its modest goal of $25,000 on the first day. The money kept coming in, with posts on social media spreading the word and wishing Mr. Unno a full recovery.
Then on Oct. 6, the Japanese news outlet Asahi Shimbun quoted Mr. Unno saying that one of the attackers had used the word “Chinese” during the attack. Other outlets in Asia and the United States picked up the story, emphasizing the slur. “Japanese Musician Beaten Up in New York for Being ‘Chinese,’” ran the headline in Japan Today. Many noted that crimes against Asian-Americans have risen since the start of the pandemic, which Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed on China.
The tenor of social media posts changed. Now it was a story about racism, about “white thugs” inspired by Mr. Trump in one post, or, in a Twitter post soon after, about “racist blacks in Harlem” who “get away with racial slurs and violence.”
As a window on racial violence rather than a random assault, social media posts spread beyond jazz circles. Grace Meng, a congresswoman representing part of Queens, wrote that “Hate — against AAPIs and against any community — has no place in New York,” using the abbreviation for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Any uncertainty about the attackers’ motives seemed to evaporate.