Philly DA approves ethnic intimidation charges in SEPTA BSL anti-Asian attack
Four teenagers have been identified by SEPTA police in the attack against a Central high senior at Erie station.
On Wednesday, Nov. 17, around 3:30 p.m., an Asian female student was attacked on SEPTA’s Broad Street Line subway in what appeared to be a racially-motivated assault.
SEPTA police have identified the suspects and say they will be charged with ethnic intimidation. SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said the victims in the attack are Asian and the four suspects are African-American females.
“This was an attack based on ethnicity and ethnic slurs were used by the attackers,” Nestel said.
On Thursday night, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office approved charges of aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, criminal conspiracy, simple assault and other related offenses against four of the students.
One suspect has been charged with an additional count of robbery for attempting to steal one of the victims’ air pods.
“This matter will proceed in the juvenile justice system; as such, we will not be releasing the names of the defendants. We are grateful to our partners in law enforcement, particularly SEPTA Police, for their swift investigation of this incident,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement.
Update: "It's clear they were picked on because they were Asian," SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said Thursday at a news conference. No arrests have been made though investigators have made contact with the youths. https://t.co/j0sktbKk1G
— Andy Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) November 19, 2021
As of now, SEPTA police believe it was an unprovoked attack and are working with other city and school leaders to offer support for the victims.
Nestel told 6ABC that after the video went viral on social media, tips came pouring in. One of them came from one of the suspect’s mothers.
“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,” he said.
Community spokesperson John Chin said he has contacted the family of the teen who stood up to her attackers.
Chin said that the family is very distraught over the incident and were in meetings all day Thursday with the school district.
“In fact, the family, and other families, of students in the school district have brought in legal representation,” Chin said.
Nestel said the students who were injured attend Central High School.
Officials said that starting immediately, a police escort will be present on the Broad Street Line for students returning home from Central.
The school district said the girl who was attacked, a senior at Central, was trying to speak up for a peer who may have been a victim of bullying.
The victim’s aunt, Mei Lu, told USA 366 that she believes her niece did the right thing.
“My niece didn’t even know anybody,” Mei Lu said. “It was at the wrong place, wrong time. But what she did, she did the right thing. She stepped up for strangers, for people she doesn’t know.”
Monica Lewis, a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia, said in a statement that the victim’s actions were brave and honorable.
— Matt Petrillo (@MattPetrillo) November 18, 2021
“It’s unfortunate that she was treated in such a way, because she really did something that we expect all of us to do — when you see someone being mistreated or you see someone being harmed, you don’t just stand by. You try to help them,” Lewis said.
Councilmember Helen Gym spoke with the mother of the student who was attacked, and said she is a very active young person who is involved in Asian American youth organizing.
Tonight I met with the young woman involved in the horrifying SEPTA assault. She is the best of all of us - a high school teen who stood up for her fellow classmates who were being bullied and assaulted.
What’s clear is that all of us are harmed when any one of us is hurt.
— Helen Gym (@HelenGymPHL) November 19, 2021
Gym called her a hero for her intervention and that she should be recognized for her actions that went “above and beyond” in an effort to address harassment and violence.
“I think that she should be recognized for actions that went above and beyond in an effort to address harassment and violence,” she said.
Gym said the incident reflects the level of trauma and violence happening across Philadelphia, and lack of support for the city’s children.
In 2009, more than two dozen Asian students were brutally assaulted at South Philadelphia High School. The federal government claimed that school leaders were deliberately apathetic to anti-Asian harassment and violence.
The school attacks resulted in the adoption of a districtwide anti-bullying policy, a landmark ruling in December 2010 by the U.S. Department of Justice, and a finding by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission that the Asian students’ rights had been violated.
Despite this change, some students and parents believe the policy should be revisited and reevaluated for efficiency. According to a recent FBI report, hate crimes against Asian-Ameericans rose 76% during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gym said that the students who held a protest to stand up for themselves in 2009 showed that when youth speak out, they can create “seismic and systemic change” across a city.
“I think that same attention needs to happen right now,” she said.”We’ve become grossly indifferent to the harm that’s caused to any Philadelphian, as well as to Asian Americans.”