Authorities in New York are hunting for a suspect in an alleged hate crime after an Asian woman was struck in the head with a hammer, according to the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
The victim, 31, and her friend, 29, were walking in midtown Manhattan on Sunday evening (local time) when the unidentified suspect approached and demanded the women remove their masks, police said. A surveillance camera captured the suspect then swinging the hammer at the 31-year-old, before fleeing on foot.
The victim was hospitalised with a laceration to her head, police said.
"She was talking to herself, like talking to a wall. I thought maybe she was drunk or something," the victim, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, Theresa, told ABC New York station WABC.
"So we just wanted to pass through her quickly. She saw us and said, 'take off your f****** mask'."
Theresa told the station that her mother, who lives in Taiwan, had warned her of the rise in hate crime towards Asian people when she returned to New York last month to look for a job.
"My mom actually told me please be careful, there's a lot of Asian crime happening in America," she said.
Attacks against people of Asian heritage have recently skyrocketed in the city, with commentators drawing a link between escalating anti-Asian sentiments and the ongoing pandemic, understood to have originated in China.
Tensions were also exacerbated by former US President Donald Trump, who frequently referred to COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, as the "China virus".
According to NYPD data, one hate crime against a person of Asian ethnicity was reported in 2019. In 2021 to date, 47 attacks have been reported.
The NYPD said its hate crime task force is investigating the latest attack and is appealing to the public for information in identifying the suspect.