Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, recently received the coronavirus vaccine and was walking in the Anza Vista neighborhood on the morning of January 28, when a man ran across the street and forcibly knocked him to the ground in San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin called “a terrible, pointless attack.”
Ratanapakdee never regained consciousness after the fatal attack, remembered his daughter Monthanus Ratanapakdee and fought back tears. A police officer told her they found him on the street and that he suffered from brain haemorrhage.
“He never wakes up,” she said. “I’ll never see him again.”
But Ratanapakdee’s family said the attack was more than an example of someone persecuting the vulnerable and the elderly. They called it a hate crime – despite the lack of evidence solely pointing to anti-Asian bigotry – and part of a month-long surge in hatred and violence against the community.
“This wasn’t economy-driven,” said Eric Lawson, Ratanapakdee’s son-in-law. “It was driven by hatred.”
Reports of hatred have increased during the pandemic
While rights groups are unaware of the exact cause of the rise in violence against Asian Americans, a clear pattern of targeted hatred has emerged in the year the pandemic decimated US cities.
In fact, Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate has received more than 2,800 first-hand reports of anti-Asian hatred in 47 states and Washington, DC since March 19. In Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood, police said a man violently bumped into three unsuspecting people on Jan. 31, injuring a 91-year-old man, a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman.
A 28-year-old man was charged with three charges of assault for the attacks. The man was taken to a mental hospital on February 1 for another incident in which he again assaulted people, the records said.
According to official sources, more than 20 assaults and robberies have been reported in Oakland. Dozens of Asian-owned companies have been destroyed in Portland in the past few weeks.
Last week, Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced the establishment of a special response unit to deal with crimes against Asians, and especially older Asians.
“The rapid increase in crime against members of the Asian community, especially Chinese Americans who live and work in Alameda County, is unbearable,” she said.
A 31-year-old San Francisco resident, Haskell Allen, was arrested Sunday night and booked for grievous bodily harm, mistreatment of the elderly grievously, battery grievously injured, and grievously harming the elderly during a crime. Police said a crime was committed, a no-go-order violation, and a person injured because of a perceived race during the pre-trial release.
According to the San Francisco Police Department, he was charged with knocking down an 83-year-old Asian man on Sunday morning, resulting in serious injuries. The victim, who was not identified, told police he was walking in the city’s Tenderloin District “when an unknown man walked up to him and pushed him onto the sidewalk without provocation”.
Police said Allen was on parole and had a court order to stay out of the attack area. It is unclear whether Allen has a lawyer.
Proponents attributed the rise in anti-Asian hatred in the US in part to former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus” and “kung flu” during the pandemic. In some reported hate incidents, the perpetrators repeated the language of the former president.
Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian-American studies at San Francisco State University, said Trump’s rhetoric had a lasting and disturbing influence. He decided to record thousands of hate incidents at Stop AAPI Hate because the US government agencies couldn’t keep track of them.
“We had to document racism against Asians because mainstream society doesn’t believe we are exposed to racism and we have to document what happened and we had to identify the trends,” he said.
Jeung said racism and assault had created “a climate of fear and fear” in many Asian American communities.
There is no consistent crime data on anti-Asian incidents related to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a Pew research study last June found that nearly a third of Asian Americans had faced racial slurs or jokes since the pandemic began, while 26% feared someone might physically attack them.
Volunteers escort older Asian Americans
In San Francisco Bay, volunteers have taken to the streets to provide escorts and advice to senior residents on how to communicate with law enforcement officers.
“You want to take this anger on yourself and … do something,” said the volunteer Derek Ko. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Monthanus Ratanapakdee said she was familiar with the hatred even before her father was fatally attacked in late January.
She remembered people saying, “You bring the Covid, screaming, spitting[ting] on us … but we just walk away. “
Lawson said the spate of hate incidents and assault hit the once teeming streets of mostly Asian-American enclaves.
“There are fewer people on the street, definitely fewer Asians,” he said. “I’m in Chinatown a lot and it’s dead … It started growing again and then … this happened.”
Lawson said Ratanapakdee’s family will hold talks and look around the room for him.
“There’s an empty spot in the room,” he said. “I keep looking over to see if … he’s listening.”
Monthanus Ratanapakdee complained that she couldn’t say goodbye to her father. But she said he was proud to have his family tell his story now to protect others in their community.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.