Press Conference Vigil Held in Memory of Indo-Caribbean killed in Queens
A press conference and vigil was held on sundown on Sunday in memory of hit and run Guyanese victim Ritawantee (Rita) Persaud of Ozone Park, Queens. The event was organized by Assemblywoman of the district (38 – Greater Woodhaven/Ozone Park), Jenifer Rajkumar, community advocate Romeo Hitlall, and others to thank law enforcement for their diligent work to arrest the alleged killer a few days ago, some nine months after the tragedy. The perpetrator was charged for vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. He was arraigned on 4 counts indictment. Last Friday, the arrest of the killer captured the attention of the President and Vice President of Guyana at their public engagement with the diaspora.
Rita or Aunty Rita, as she was popularly known, was riding in the back of a taxi when another vehicle, driven by the perpetrator, ‘broke’ or ran the red light and hit the Uber taxi. Rita, who was on her way to a temple for religious service Christmas Eve 2020, died.
Rita was very popular in the Indo-Caribbean Hindu community. A professional accountant, she worked constantly in service of others. She was also gifted singer of bhajans and Bollywood songs. “She was a beautiful soul and a leader in the Guyanese community who devoted her life to seva or selfless service, and touched many lives”, said Assemblywoman Rajkumar.
The press conference and vigil were held outside of the Church of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 91st Street and Rockaway Boulevard, just a few yards away from Rita was killed. Many Guyanese live in the area.
Rajkumar was joined by Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, Representatives of NYPD, the detective who pursued the investigation in the case, Community Leader Romeo Hitlall, District Leader Richard David, Community advocate Jeanny Persaud, Fazal Joe Yussuf of the Guyana Consulate, Attorney Albert Baldeo (himself a prominent activist) and former District Leader, Rita’s family and friends, members of several mandirs, Pandit Ram Hardowar who is President of Federation of Hindu Mandirs.
The Assembly woman said the conference and vigil was held “to honor the life of a remarkable woman, a beloved leader in the Guyanese Hindu community”.
When she wasn’t working as an accountant, Rita was busy giving back to her community. Rajkumar said: “She was especially focused on uplifting the youth, and so many children, so many members of the community, have stories of how she touched their lives. From all accounts, she was truly a remarkable woman and a beautiful soul. As the first Hindu American elected official in this State, I personally remember her life with pride. Because she exemplified the Hindu ideal of Seva, Selfless service for the community. Aunty Rita was a Goddess on Earth. She was Devi Ji. She had the Strength of Goddess Durga, the loving heart of Parvati and Radha, bestowing wealth of love upon others like Goddess Laxmi.”
Rajkumar as well as the Queens District Attorney (DA) and all other speakers, praised the work of the detectives who pursued and found the killer. Last Friday, when this writer brought the news of the arrest of the killer of the Guyanese woman to the President and Vice President, they both cheered the two commanding officers who were present at the exchange with the diaspora at the Hilton hotel. The President announced he would look into the possibility of collaboration with NYPD in crime fighting.
At Sunday’s press conference, Rajkumar said, “Because of the fine work of NPYD, we can finally have justice for her and her family. I only hope that after nine agonizing months, the arrest brings comfort to the many people in mourning”.
She added: I commend Ms. Persaud’s family for their strength and for their grace in the face of incredible tragedy. I will never forget the strength and grace they exhibited in the face of incredible tragedy and pain”.
Rajkumar also praised the Asian police task force that broke the case. The investigation was conducted by Detective Kwang Choi of the Collision Investigation Squad under the supervision of Sergeant Robert Denig. A contingent of police officers from 102nd precinct was present as well as representatives of politicians.
Rajkumar profusely praised the police: “Thank you to the police for being an ally of the Indo-American community, protecting us. I am Grateful for the strong relationship the NYPD has with our South Asian and Indo Caribbean community working together for our safety, for safe streets, working against hate crimes, and working for justice for Rita Persaud”.
Rajkumar also cheered District Attorney Melinda Katz who is prosecuting the case. She is a leader with a long history of accomplishment for Queens. She leads with compassion and strength to advance justice in the borough of Queens, for immigrants, for women, for the disenfranchised. She was once an assemblywoman like me before becoming Borough President and now our distinguished District Attorney. She is an inspiring figure for women in government. She embraces diversity and is a great friend to the South Asian and Indo Caribbean community. She has even hired many South Asian reps in her office. We wish District Attorney Katz Godspeed as she prosecutes this case”.
Ms. Katz promised justice. The close-knit Indo-Caribbean community has been demanding justice for Rita. The community leaders say they are committed to monitoring the prosecution of the case. They note that this is one step towards justice. Justice can only be done when there is a conviction.
Community leaders also issued a call to drivers observe speed limits because they put themselves and the lives of others in danger. Within the last week, four young Indo-Caribbeans in Queens were killed in accidents.
Pandit Ram Hardowar of Federation of Mandirs offered special prayers for the soul of the victim during this auspicious of Pitri Paksh when Hindus pay reverence and remember their loved ones who passed away. Following the speeches and prayers, the gathering marched in candle light procession to the scene of the accident.
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