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An attack against an Asian-American student from Central High School occurred on SEPTA's Broad Street Line on Nov. 17, 2021. Photo: Gregory Adams/Getty Images

Recent attack on SEPTA has Philly’s AAPI community demanding more safety

The victim is in recovery and the perpetrators caught, but it doesn’t do away with what’s been almost two years of heightened racial abuse.

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On Wednesday, Nov. 17, an Asian-American high school student was physically assaulted on SEPTA while trying to stop peers from being bullied. 

Christina, an 18-year-old senior at Central High School, was riding home from school when she noticed a group of Black girls “tormenting” another group of Asian-American students who attend Central.

When she tried to intervene, the group of harassers turned on her, injuring her to the extent that she required hospitalization. 

The attackers were identified within a day, and are facing multiple charges including ethnic intimidation, aggravated assault, and disorderly conduct. 

In an interview with NBC10, a mother of one of the girls charged with assault said that her daughter’s actions were inexcusable. 

“We’re all apologetic. We are embarrassed, ashamed. It’s not who we represent,” the mother said. 

Two days after the attack, YLin Chen and Michael Chen, the mother and brother of Christina, set up a GoFundMe for her, entitled “Support Christina in Advocating for Public Safety,” which has already amassed over $740,000. 

According to the fundraiser, Christina has been released from the hospital and will be receiving mental health support from a therapist. 

“As her family, we will continue to campaign against Asian hate crimes in the School District of Philadelphia,” the Chens wrote on GoFundMe. “In addition, we are actively advocating for the safety of school students when taking public transportation.”

The attack has reignited fears in Philly’s Asian communities about racially motivated violence. Since March 2020, AAPI’s have reported a dramatic rise in harassment and racial violence. In Philadelphia, reports of anti-Asian hate incidents tripled between 2019 and 2020. 

Carlie Zhang, a 17-year-old Central senior and friend of Christina, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the school’s large Asian community is shaken after dealing with months of online school and the growing hostility towards Asian-Americans. 

”A lot of us are really struggling, traumatized. We see our own friends, people who look like us, getting hurt, getting beat up,” Zhang said. 

But Zhang did add that she doesn’t want the incident to “cause a divide between Black and Asian communities”. Instead, she hopes the attention helps to bring positive change, like stronger mental health services at all Philadelphia schools. 

“We need to make sure these instances don’t happen again,” she said. 

On Thursday, Nov. 18, Central principal Timothy J. McKenna sent a letter to parents and the school community stating that the school is offering additional counseling and support services for students feeling anxious or concerned for their safety. 

He also said that he met with parents and community advocates to create a plan ensuring that students can safely travel to and from school. 

“We need to pressure our political and law enforcement leaders to develop plans that keep all members of our city safe,” McKenna wrote.

Following the incident, SEPTA assigned a police officer to monitor the Broad Street Line train leaving from the Olney station as Central dismisses students each day. A SEPTA spokesperson said it will consider similar moves on other trains or in other locations. 

John Chin, executive director of the Chinatown Development Corporation, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that this is a great start, but that parents and community members are still very concerned with safety after what he described as “20 months of hate, violence, assault, and harassment.”

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