Philly’s Cambodian community demands more resources after receiving a letter threatening violence over fireworks
Four demands were made at a press conference held at Mifflin Square Park on Friday, July 9 by the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia.
On Friday, July 9, at the popular South Philly playground and diverse gathering place, Mifflin Square Park, the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (CAGP) held a press conference to address an anonymous threatening letter they received a week prior.
The letter was dated June 30, but was not opened until Monday, July 5 due to the Fourth of July weekend. The author alleged that Cambodians had been setting off fireworks at Mifflin Square Park, and it was impacting their ability to get a good night's rest.
The author also added that they are living with post-traumatic stress disorder due to serving as a Marine in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and claimed to be in possession of several guns.
According to the letter, which was obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the author said that they planned to take a gun, go to the park and “kill these individuals.”
In Philadelphia, someone sent an anonymous letter to community leaders threatening to "shoot Cambodians." https://t.co/dchXS6Unu8
— Angry Asian Man (@angryasianman) July 8, 2021
“I am writing you to let you know when I do freak out and try to kill these people that it is your fault for not going to them and encouraging them (it is in their best interest) to stop doing this and remain alive!” the author wrote.
On July 5, CAGP released a letter to its members, explaining that an anonymous threat has been received, one that is specifically targeting the South Philadelphia Cambodian community.
CAGP Board President Nak Chhoeung and Executive Director Sarun S. Chan, notified their members that law enforcement personnel had been contacted, as well as local and state authorities.
As the investigation unfolded, the Philadelphia police department was able to identify the author of the letter. The alleged author, a 79-year-old woman, claimed to be responsible for the threat, and it was discovered that not only is she not a veteran, but she also does not appear to possess firearms.
According to CBS Philly, police have since forwarded their finding to the District Attorney’s Office for review, and the senior citizen may face charges for her actions.
At the press conference, community members heard from a wide range of speakers, including CAGP leadership, PA Senator Nikil Saval, Philadelphia Council members Mark Squilla and Helen Gym, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League Shira J, Goodman, Executive Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs Amy Eusebio, and more.
The targeted hate toward the Cambodian community is unacceptable. My office stands in solidarity with the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (CAGP) & the Cambodian community in Philadelphia. Celebrating our differences and respecting cultures are part of the mission... pic.twitter.com/BoBKFA6lDS
— Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (@RepFiedler) July 7, 2021
“My heart is overwhelmed and happy to see everyone in support and solidarity with us. In the many years that I’ve been living in Philadelphia, our community has never received such a violent threat,” said President of the Cambodian American Business Community Hor Chou, through a translator.
In his opening remarks at Friday’s event, Sarun Chan said the letter is “ethnic intimidation,” and a “hate crime” regardless of who wrote it.
He went on to say that the letter demonstrated the ongoing anti-Asian hate and violence experienced in Philadelphia and nationally, partially as a result of former President Donald Trump’s xenophobic pandemic-related rhetoric.
At the mid-point of the press conference, Chan took a moment to acknowledge the presence of and thank the many community organizations that responded to the threat quickly and showed tangible support and solidarity.
The supporters included the Philadelphia Police Department, the Office of Immigrant Affairs, VietLead, Asian Americans United, State Rep. Elizabeth Fielder, Cambodian American Girls Empowering, American Civil Liberties Union, Philly Solidarity, Friends of Mifflin Square Park, and many more.
“Cambodian-Americans, Cambodian refugees settled here in the early 80s, into impoverished neighborhoods with little resources, little to no services, involved in the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline, due to being in underserved communities,” said Kith.
She then said the letter was very triggering, “to say the least,” and the threat of gun violence is something the community is not unfamiliar with. They have been met with these threats, as well as discrimination, racism and ethnic intimidation, Kith said.
“This letter talks about post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m not making light of mental health issues. This person is weaponizing a mental health condition that is very real and serious to many of the Cambodian-American and diverse refugees in this city. The trauma still exists and has not been resolved for many people. So we take this very seriously,” she said.
As for the next steps, CAGP laid out four demands that seek to cultivate some form of reconciliation on behalf of the letter’s author and the community she harmed, as well as increased resources for the impacted group.
CAGP is calling for accountability from the author, more equitable accessibility to city mental health resources, prioritization of the community in regards to investments of city resources (including funding and grant opportunities), and institutional and systems-wide anti-racist and equity-building training at the city level.
The damage has been done, and this letter re-opened wounds for a community that escaped war and genocide only to arrive in a country that treats them as perpetual foreigners.
Anti-Asian hate is persisting throughout the country, and threats such as this one must be taken seriously and handled swiftly, just as CAGP and the Philadelphia Police Department did.