Two Asian people were attacked on the street Wednesday in San Francisco — but one of them fought back, defending herself and injuring her attacker before he was arrested, police said.
The incident came just one day after eight people were killed, most of whom were Asian women, when a shooter opened fire inside three Atlanta-area spas. Anti-Asian hate crimes have seen an extreme increase throughout the pandemic, according to a report released by Stop AAPI Hate just hours before the massacre.
A 39-year-old man, Steven Jenkins, was arrested on suspicion of committing the unprovoked double aggravated assault, San Francisco police said. Witnesses said Jenkins attacked the two victims about 30 minutes after getting into another physical altercation in the United Nations Plaza area.
Jenkins allegedly approached an 83-year-old Asian man and assaulted him. According to police, a security guard then pursued Jenkins, who assaulted a 75-year-old Asian woman while fleeing the first scene.
"Both assaults are believed to have been unprovoked," Officer Robert Rueca said. "Investigators are working to determine if bias was a motivating factor in the incident."
A GoFundMe for the man, set up by the Community Youth Center of San Francisco (CYCSF) on Thursday, identified him as Ngoc Pham.
Pham, who is Vietnamese, is in the hospital with a fractured nose, and cuts and bruises on his head after falling, the GoFundMe said. Doctors are still evaluating the extent of his neck injuries, but he is "in good spirits," according to the fundraiser that several local officials shared online.
"Ngoc has always had a positive outlook on life as a result of him surviving 17 years in a Vietnamese concentration camp," the CYCSF said.
The woman, identified by her family as Xiao Zhen Xie, fought back, beating up the suspect to save herself, according to witnesses. A CBS San Francisco reporter who happened to be present at the time of the incident captured video of the aftermath.
The footage shows the woman sobbing and yelling at the man while icing visible facial injuries and carrying what appears to be a wooden plank. A suspect is seen handcuffed to a hospital stretcher and bleeding from the mouth.
"You bum, why did you hit me?" Xie reportedly said to the man in Chinese.
"This bum, he hit me," she told the crowd of onlookers and emergency workers.
Just came upon an attack on an elderly Asian woman on Market Street San Francisco. Effort I got more details
Police were unable to confirm details of how the woman fended off her attacker, citing an active investigation, but said the footage of the incident and CBS San Francisco's reporting on it were accurate.
“From what I could see, she wanted more of the guy on the stretcher and the police were holding her back," Dennis O'Donnell, the reporter who filmed the video, said in an interview about the incident.
The suspect was taken to the hospital "for an unrelated, prior medical condition," Rueca said. The two victims were also transported with non-life-threatening injuries.
Police have increased their patrols in parts of San Francisco with large Asian American populations as attacks on the community continue.
"We're not new to these assaults on the Asian community — we're certainly aware of the potential for the bias," Rueca said.
Xiao Zhen Xie's family set up a GoFundMe to cover her medical expenses, saying she has two black eyes, one of which is "bleeding unstoppably," and that her wrist is swollen.
"She has been severely affected mentally, physically, and emotionally," her grandson, John Chen, wrote on the GoFundMe. "She also stated that she is afraid to step out of her home from now on."
Xie spoke to CBS San Francisco following the attack, with her daughter, Dong-Mei Li, translating. She said the suspect randomly punched her in the eye while she was waiting for a traffic light to change. The trauma has been so severe she has not been able to eat, Li said.
“Very traumatized, very scared, and this eye is still bleeding,” Li said. “The right eye still cannot see anything and still bleeding, and we have something to absorb the bleeding.”
Xie, who has lived in San Francisco for 26 years, fought back on pure instinct.
“She found the stick around the area and fought back,” Li said.
According to the report released by Stop AAPI Hate on Tuesday, Asian Americans have reported at least 3,795 hate incidents throughout the pandemic. Over 44.5% of these incidents occurred in California, which has by far the largest Asian American population of any state.
Many unprovoked attacks against Asian Americans — some deadly — have taken place in the San Francisco area in just the first few months of 2021. On March 12, 75-year-old Pak Ho died after being attacked and robbed by a suspect with a "history of victimizing elderly Asian people." On Jan. 28, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai immigrant, died of a brain hemorrhage after an attacker slammed him to the ground. Other Asian Americans in the Bay Area have been beaten up and robbed in recent weeks.
The rise in racist attacks, both on the street and hate-mongering rhetoric, against Asian Americans comes on the heels of former president Donald Trump thrusting blame for COVID-19 onto China, calling the disease the "China Virus" and "Kung Flu." He denied his rhetoric was racist and continued using the terms, even after a reporter questioned him about the uptick in assaults on Asian Americans.