Despite the increase in awareness of anti-Asian crimes, incidents of hate continue to rise across the country. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train has made headlines again after a recent incident of racism was recorded and reported, in which at least four students were attacked based on their Asian identity.
Four teenagers are facing ethnic intimidation charges in relation to the attack that occurred in Philadelphia. According to SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel, three male students and a female student were traveling on the train on Nov. 16 when they were attacked by four teenagers. Nestel described the attack as unprovoked, noting: “This was an attack based on ethnicity, and ethnic slurs were used by the attackers,” Nestel said during a press conference Thursday. He added the attack was otherwise “unprovoked.”
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the SEPTA Police, Philadelphia Police, Philadelphia School Administration officials, School District Police, and the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission were all involved in the investigation.
Video footage of the incident, which has since gone viral, depicts four teenage girls yelling at three male students who are seated on the train. The teens then approach a female bystander who intervened and told them to stop harassing the boys. At least one of the teens is seen in the video pushing the girl, who is standing, before repeatedly slamming her head against the train door.
After the girl falls, the teens can be seen kicking and punching her on the ground for several moments. After police were alerted of the attack, the victim was taken to the hospital to be treated. No serious injuries were reported.
The victim was identified as an 18-year-old senior at Central High School named Christina. According to NBC News, she was riding home from school when the incident took place.
“She was a hero,” Nestel during a press conference. “She stepped up and told the girls to stop saying what they were saying. She then became a target. Just truly heroic, courageous.”
According to police officials, all four suspects were identified as ranging between the ages of 12-16. While their identities have not been made public, each of the suspects was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, criminal conspiracy, simple assault, disorderly conduct, and recklessly endangering another person. At least one of the teens was also charged with robbery for attempted theft of a victim’s AirPod headphones.
During a press conference, Nestel told reporters that the mother of one of the teens identified her daughter from the circulated video online and reported her to police. “A mother called when she saw her daughter as one of the people involved in the assault and reported her daughter as being one of the attackers,” Nestel said.
The mother spoke to NBC News and condemned the attack in addition to apologizing to the victims. “We’re all apologetic,” the girl’s mother said. “We are embarrassed, ashamed. It’s not who we represent.”
She noted that her daughter is 12 years old and had been missing for two weeks after running away from home until she was placed in custody after the incident. “I was extremely hurt and this is why I needed to meet with you guys publicly so that you know that my family is very sincerely apologetic about what happened to that child because we all pray that our children make it home safe from school,” she said.
Following the incident, a fundraiser set up by the victim and her family garnered more than half a million dollars in less than 24 hours.
Titled “Support Christina in Advocating for Public Safety,” the GoFundMe had raised nearly $550,000 by early Saturday afternoon. As of this report, the page now has raised more than $700,000 in efforts to stop Asian hate.
“As her family, we will continue to campaign against Asian hate crimes in the School District of Philadelphia,” YLin Chen and Michael Chewrote on GoFundMe. “In addition, we are actively advocating for the safety of school students when taking public transportation.”
In addition to support from the community, local politicians and leaders acknowledged the incident and said that they would work to eliminate such incidents of hate.
“I’m appalled by yesterday’s assault involving students on the Broad Street Line. Those involved in the assault have been identified and will be held accountable. I want our residents to know that we will not tolerate any acts of hate,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.
The incident follows a consistent trend of violent attacks against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of organizations dedicated to addressing anti-Asian discrimination, at least 10,370 incidents of anti-Asian bias have been reported from March 19, 2020, to Sept. 30. This data comes alongside others confirming a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Last month, data by the FBI found that hate crimes actually rose by 76% in 2020.
The AAPI community needs our support now more than ever, whether it be checking in on our family and friends, spreading awareness of COVID-19 misconceptions, or contacting members of Congress to do more against anti-Asian hate. Check out this guide on resources and ways to support the AAPI community and our Asian friends. Hate is the real virus, and we must end it.