June 15, 2011
An upsetting development, via Yahoo news,
CHINATOWN — A Buddhist nun giving out prayer beads on Canal Street to raise money to rebuild her burned down temple was arrested and detained her for several hours without an interpreter, she told DNAinfo.
Police charged Baojing Li, 48, with acting as an unlicensed vendor, a misdemeanor. They claim she hawked costume jewelry at the corner of Canal and Mott Streets on June 2 without a license from the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
But the religious woman, who wears a traditional Buddhist robe and has a shaven head, says she was not selling the 50-cent strands of prayer beads, but handing them out to generous people who dropped donations in her collection tin.
Li said she had a sign placed next to her stool — written in red Chinese calligraphy — telling would-be donors that she needed help rebuilding her temple and home in Chamblee, in Georgia. The building burned down on March 26, according to the official fire incident report.
The Chinese native, who came to the U.S. to do missionary work in 1996, wept as she said police approached her on the street, handcuffed her and took her to the Midtown South precinct where she said she was held for four hours without knowing what was happening.
"I had no idea what [was] going on. I don't know," Li said in her lawyer's office Monday, fighting back tears while telling the story through a translator. "Nobody explained whatsoever," she added.
Li was issued a desk appearance ticket and ordered to appear in Midtown Community Court on July 7. If convicted, she could face up to three months in jail and a $3,000 fine.
Her attorney, Robert Brown, said he agreed to take Li's case pro bono after hearing her story.
Li came to New York in April in hopes of getting help from Manhattan's large Chinese population, she said.
She has been living at an East Broadway Buddhist temple, and has already raised $10,000 of the $30,000 she needs thanks to donations from New Yorkers and coverage in the Chinese-language press, she said.
Brown added that a passerby tried to intervene during the arrest, telling police that she was raising money for charity and not selling the beads, but the explanation fell on deaf ears.
Sadly, as a New Yorker who has lived through the Giuliani and Bloomberg eras, this story does not surprise me at all. While there are undoubtedly many professional members of the NYPD that deserve much respect and gratitude, it could also be argued that the NYPD also employs many unprofessional and aggressive individuals who routinely exercise poor judgment. Furthermore, as someone who walks to and from work every day through the chaos that is Canal Street, I find it odd that the NYPD would single out a Buddhist nun. Can they not see the men pushing illegal knockoff handbags every twenty feet? What about the guys pushing stolen iPhones, iPods, and drugs?
Also, while I am certainly not a constitutional scholar, as I understand it if she was offering prayer beads and not selling them that this is well within her first ammendment rights.
Whether or not there was any legal basis for disallowing Baojing Li from raising money for her temple on the street, that it was said she was "hawking costume jewelry" is a perfect example the type of ignorance that should not be tolerated from those that serve the public.
I am hoping to find out which temple in Chamblee, Georgia it is that Baojing Li was raising money for so as to encourage the Tricycle Community to offer them support and thus aid Baojing Li in her work, but I have not yet been able to confirm this. I suspect it may be the Atlanta Buddhist Association (update: I was wrong about this) at 5383D New Peachtree Rd. in Chamblee, GA because this is the only Chinese Buddhist temple I can find any info for there, but none of the phone numbers listed in online directories for that center appear to be working. If anybody knows anything regarding this matter, please feel free to post a comment or email monty-at-tricycle.com. For now, all I can say is that my heart goes out to Baojing Li and that she has my support.
I am told that the temple Baojing Li is raising money for is the Pu Xian Temple. If you would like to support Baojing Li's work and make a donation, checks payable to the Atlanta Pu Xian Buddhist Association, Inc, can be sent to 3140 Shallowford Pl, Atlanta, GA 30341. Their phone number is 678-436-3607.
I am also told her name isn't Baojing Li! Her name is Venerable Hong Yuan.
Thanks to everyone who has emailed!