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New Evidence in the Death of a Queens Massage Worker

Surveillance video sheds some light on the police raid that killed Yang Song last year while, advocates say, the raids continue.

Yumei Shi thanks demonstrators at a rally demanding justice for Yang Song outside the 109th NYPD Precinct in Flushing on Dec. 17, 2017.
Scott Heins for The Appeal

New Evidence in the Death of a Queens Massage Worker

Surveillance video sheds some light on the police raid that killed Yang Song last year while, advocates say, the raids continue.


中文版本

Seven months after Yang Song, a 38-year-old massage worker in Flushing, Queens, fell four stories to her death during a police anti-prostitution raid, the public may soon get some answers about what happened. A report expected to be released before the end of June will conclude there was no misconduct in Yang Song’s death, according to her brother and another person who viewed surveillance footage in a meeting with representatives from the Queens District Attorney’s Office earlier this month.

Queens County DA spokesperson Kim Livingston would not confirm if or when such a meeting had taken place, or when report findings will be released, if at all. But while the community waits for answers, raids like the one that led to Yang Song’s death continue in Flushing.

“These massage parlor raids must stop,” Red, an organizer with Support Ho(s)e, a sex workers’ rights group that led a rally after Yang Song’s death, told The Appeal. “The violence of police raids in the name of rescue has never been justifiable. Loss of livelihood and loss of life are all that ever come from police raids. Yang Song should still be here.”

On Nov. 25, 2017, police officers entered the building where Yang Song provided massage services on 40th Road. A short time later, she fell from a fourth-floor balcony and died the next day. Her brother Hai Song and mother, Yumei Shi, arrived in New York from China soon after and publicly raised questions about the circumstances of her death. Yang had told them by phone that she had been sexually assaulted by a man claiming to be an undercover officer, they revealed, and that she had been pressured by police to become an informant.

An autopsy report signed March 22 and shared with The Appeal acknowledges that the police raid played a role in her death. Yang Song “jumped from fourth-story balcony in attempt to evade arrest by New York City Police Department,” it states. She died as a result of blunt force trauma to her head, neck, and extremities, according to the medical examiner, whose office conducted the autopsy on Nov. 27. Assistant District Attorney Suzanne M. Bettis also confirmed to The Appeal that her office has the surveillance footage. She did not confirm showing it to Yang Song’s family.

The Queens DA’s office collected surveillance footage from multiple cameras, according to Hai Song and a second person who viewed the video but was not authorized to speak on the record: from the stairwell outside of the room where Song fell, from inside the room, and from outside the building on 40th Road. In the stairwell video, Yang Song is seen walking up the stairs with a man identified in the meeting as an undercover police officer, according to those present. In the room footage, the man is seen entering the bathroom before leaving the apartment. In the external video, a body falls through the frame, which captures neither the balcony nor the sidewalk below.

Though the video apparently does not show an officer and Yang Song directly interact in the seconds before she fell, Hai Song still isn’t satisfied, and remains skeptical of the police. “No matter why my sister fell from the building,” he told The Appeal, “there were always threats and harassment from the police before the accident.”

Since November, Hai Song and his mother have been living in a tiny room in Flushing, so narrow that the twin beds nearly touch. Food donations from a local church—orange juice, boxes of macaroni and cheese—are stacked against one wall next to a large pale-pink thermos that Hai Song recovered from the room where his sister fell. “Even when I’m sleeping, I still think” about the case, he told The Appeal on an unseasonably hot afternoon last month.

Yang Song's mother Yumei Shi continues to grieve in the one-room apartment in Flushing she is sharing with her son, Hai Song.
Scott Heins for The Appeal

Bettis’s team at the Queens DA’s office initially declined to share surveillance footage with Song’s brother and mother at a meeting this spring, according to Hai Song and civil attorney Julia Kuan, who was also at that meeting. Last month, State Assemblyman Ron Kim sent a letter to the DA’s office asking them to release “evidence and any footage they might have” to Hai Song. Soon after, Kim’s office said, the DA reportedly agreed to the viewing.

“Assemblymember Kim understands Song Hai and his mother’s continual frustration,” Tony Cao, a spokesperson for his office, told The Appeal. “She’s a victim regardless of whatever the ultimate conclusion is.”

Michael Chu, founder of the Flushing Neighborhood Watch Team, says the lack of public information on the case has allowed rumors to swirl for months. Posters seeking information about Yang Song’s death, hung by her brother, are still visible on neighborhood lampposts. “We really need a very clean, very objective investigation,” Chu said. “Show us the evidence, show us the video.”

Catherine Carbonaro, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society who represents trafficking victims and people with prostitution-related charges, said she hoped arrests targeting Asian women in massage businesses in Queens might stop or slow after Yang Song’s death. But while prostitution arrests in the borough have decreased, she said, arrests involving massage workers have barely budged. Her caseload included 59 prostitution and massage-related arrests over the last five months and the same number during the same period in 2017; this year, there were 20 Chinese or Korean defendants in those cases, compared with 29 last year. “We’re still seeing the most arrests in Queens” compared with the other four boroughs, she said. Massage businesses remain a significant target for repeat operations by police, Carbonaro added. “We have seen them go back to the same places.”

Yang Song’s death came nearly 10 months after the NYPD pledged to arrest fewer people on prostitution charges, part of a trust-building initiative with immigrant communities as President Trump’s rhetoric stoked fear. Yet Carbonaro told The Appeal her clients still report problems with the police. They often don’t understand what is happening to them in these arrests, Carbonaro said, as undercover officers attempt to get them to agree to an act of prostitution or an unlicensed massage. The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The consequences for these arrests remain grave: the threat of deportation. Of Carbonaro’s clients who have been deported or detained by ICE, two are Korean and one (still in deportation proceedings) is Chinese.

At a "People's Monday" rally in March, activists marched through Flushing denouncing the NYPD and adding Yang Song's name to a long list of victims of police violence.
Scott Heins for The Appeal

Activists have held community actions in recent months, remembering Yang Song and demanding change. On Dec. 17, 2017, activists from the city’s sex workers’ rights community gathered outside the 109th Precinct in Flushing, calling for an end to the massage parlor arrests. Yang Song’s mother, Yumei Shi, walked the circle of about two dozen people gathered on the sidewalk, thanking each one. The anti-police brutality group NYC Shut It Down, which marches each week to honor a different person killed by police, took to the streets of Flushing on March 5 for Yang Song and demanded the decriminalization of sex work.

With the investigation nearing its conclusion, Yang Song’s family is left with little closure. Her brother says he wants a guarantee from the DA’s office that he will receive a copy of the surveillance footage and the entire police report.

Kuan, the civil lawyer, told The Appeal that her office does not have adequate evidence to pursue a lawsuit on their behalf. Setting aside the possibility of police misconduct, however, Kuan thinks Yang Song’s death should be a lesson for law enforcement. “I do believe she fell from there because there was a raid happening,” she said. “I think there’s a bigger question about the NYPD’s priorities.”

Translation and additional reporting by Rong Xiaoqing.

Read in English

皇后區按摩女死亡事件浮現新證據

錄影帶呈現去年導致宋揚死亡的警方突擊執法現場,維權人士稱突擊執法仍在繼續。

By:

Emma Whitford, Melissa Gira Grant 報道

2018年6月15日

38歲的按摩店員工宋揚,在警方的一次反賣淫突擊執法中,從皇后區法拉盛的四層樓上墜地身亡。七個月後的今天,警方或許很快將會找到這起事件的部分答案。宋揚的弟弟和另外一名在場者本月初在皇后區地檢署的一次相關會議上,與地檢署代表一起觀看了當日的閉路電視影像。兩人表示地檢署計劃於六月底之前公佈的報告將把宋揚之死定位為無過失死亡。

皇后區地檢署發言人李文斯頓(Kim Livingston)不願證實是否有過這次會議或開會的時間,也不願證實是否或何時會公佈報告。但當社區仍然在等待答案時,在法拉盛,導致宋揚死亡的那類突擊執法行動仍然在繼續進行。『這些針對按摩店的突擊執法必須停止。』在宋揚離世後組織了抗爭集會的性工作者權益組織支援屋代表小紅(Red)對《The Appeal》表示。『以拯救為名的暴力突擊執法從來就不是正義的,只能令人丟掉工作甚至生命,宋揚本不該死。』

2017年11月25日,警察到40路上宋揚提供按摩服務的那座樓裡執法,之後沒多久宋揚就從四樓的陽台墜地,次日死亡。她的弟弟宋海和媽媽石玉梅很快從中國趕來紐約,對宋揚的死因公開提出質疑。他們表示,宋揚曾經在電話裡告訴他們她曾經被一名自稱便衣警察的人性侵,也曾被警察逼迫為警方作臥底。

本刊獲取的3月22日簽發的法醫驗屍報告上指出警方的突擊執法在宋揚之死中扮演了一定角色,報告說宋揚是『為躲避紐約市警局的逮捕而從四樓的陽台上跳了下來』。於11月27日完成宋揚屍檢的市法醫辦公室表示,她是因為頭、頸和四肢的鈍力重創而死亡的。助理地區檢察長貝提斯(Suzanne M. Bettis)對本刊表示,地檢署確實拿到了閉路電視的影像,但她沒有確認向宋揚家人展示過這些錄像。

宋海和另一位一同觀看過錄像的不具名人士表示,皇后區地檢署從多部錄像機取得了閉路影像,包括宋揚墜樓的房間外面樓梯上的錄像機、宋揚房間裡的錄像機和那座樓外面40路上的錄像機。其中樓梯上的錄像顯示宋揚和一個男子走上樓來,該男子後來在地檢署的那次會議上被確認為便衣警察。房間裡的錄像顯示這名男子在離開房間前曾經進入廁所。樓外面的錄像顯示一個人從鏡頭外墜入,但這段錄像中樓上的陽台和樓下的人行道都不在鏡頭里。

雖然錄像並沒有顯示宋揚在墜樓前的幾秒鐘曾經與警員有過直接接觸,宋海仍然對警方表示懷疑。『無論我姐是怎麼從樓上掉下來的,在事件發生之前她都曾遭到警察的威脅和騷擾。』宋海對本刊說。

11月開始,宋海和他的母親就住進法拉盛一間小到只能緊挨著擺放兩張單人床的房間,一盒盒當地教堂捐助的橘子汁、意麵和乳酪貼著一面牆摞起來,旁邊是一支很大的淡粉色熱水瓶,這是宋海從他姐姐墜樓的房間裡取回的遺物。上個月一個熱得反常的下午,宋海對本刊說:『我連做夢都在想著』這件事。

宋海和陪他前往的民權律師管朱莉(Julia Kuan)說,在今年春天的一次會面上,皇后區地檢署貝提斯的團隊最開始拒絕向宋海和他的媽媽展示那些錄像。上個月,州眾議員金兌錫致信地檢署要求向宋海展示『他們手中掌握的本案相關證據和錄像』。金兌錫辦公室表示,之後沒多久地檢署就同意讓家人去看錄像。『金眾議員理解宋海和他媽媽的困境,無論最終結論如何,她始終是受害人。』金兌錫辦公室發言人曹原說。

法拉盛守望互助隊創始人朱立創說這起事件中公眾信息的缺失導致幾個月來傳言四起,宋海在法拉盛的路燈柱子上張貼的為宋揚之死徵集證據的啟示,仍然清晰可見。『我們真的需要一個非常公正、客觀的調查,有證據有錄像就要拿出來。』朱立創說。

代表人口販賣受害人和賣淫相關被告的法律援助處律師卡波納洛(Catherine Carbonaro)說,希望警方在皇后區針對亞裔按摩女的逮捕行動在宋揚死後可以停止或暫緩。但她說,儘管皇后區的賣淫抓捕有所下降,針對按摩業工人的逮捕總體上與之前沒有不同。過去五個月來,她曾代表59名因賣淫或按摩相關問題被捕的人,與2017年同期持平。今年有20名華人或韓裔成為此類被告,去年則有29名。她說與其他四區相比,『皇后區仍然是此類逮捕的重災區。』卡波納洛補充說,按摩店仍然是警方反复執法的重點,『我們看到警方幾次三番回到那幾家同樣的店去執法。』她說。

川普總統對移民的言論引起恐慌之後,紐約市警局曾經承諾將減少逮捕、與移民社區建立互信,而十個月之後,宋揚殞命。但卡波納洛告訴本刊她的客人現在仍然被警方所擾。她說,在這些逮捕中,經常是便衣警察出馬先誘她們答應賣淫或提供無證按摩,很多被捕者稀里糊塗就被捕了。至發稿前市警總局未對此作出回复,此類執法可能帶來的後果仍然令人不寒而栗,那就是遣返。卡波納洛那些被遣返或被移民和海關執法局拘押的客人中有兩名韓裔和一名華裔,後者已經進入遣返程序。

最近幾個月維權人士已經為紀念宋揚和推動變革舉行了多場活動,2017年12月17日,紐約市的性工作者維權人士在法拉盛109分局門前集會,要求停止按摩店逮捕。人行道上,二十多人聚集在一起,宋揚的媽媽石玉梅站在中間,向人們一一致謝。反警察暴力組織『紐約抗擊』每週都會為一名死於警察暴力的人舉行遊行,3月5日,他們為宋揚走上法拉盛街頭,提出性工作去犯罪化的訴求。

現在調查接近尾聲,但宋揚的家人並沒有找到答案。她的弟弟說他希望地檢署能保證給他一份此案相關錄像拷貝和全本警方報告。管律師對本刊表示她的辦公室沒有充足的證據可以幫宋家告警察。但她說,無論宋揚之死中警方是否有失職之處,警方都應當從這起事件中吸取教訓。『我相信她墜樓是因為當時正在突擊執法,那麼更大的一個問題是,對警方來說什麼才是最重要的?』管律師說。

(翻譯及補充報道:榮筱箐)