Still Not Addressing the Racist Assaults at South Philadelphia High

Helen Gym wrote a recent post about a School Reform Commission meeting that took place March 17th in which the victims of multiple race based assaults at South Philly High testified once again about the racial assault that took place on December 3, 2009.  This time the point of their testimony was to address how “The school district response has been to distort and minimize, dismiss, deny, and obscure the scale and nature of these attacks,” according to Ellen Somekawa, executive director of Asian Americans United

On Dec. 3, about 30 Asian students were beaten in a daylong series of assaults by groups of mostly African American classmates. Seven Asian students went to hospitals. A district inquiry blamed the violence on racial tensions and unsubstantiated rumors that arose from altercations between Asian and African American students the previous day.

If this is your first run at this story, here is a very short version. Back in December – twenty seven – Asian students were jumped and beaten at while at school; in the cafeteria, hallways, classrooms and outside on the school grounds. And during this riot of violence there were gangs of students openly wandering the campus looking for Asian people to attack. 

The Asian and immigrant students, families and community at SPHS have been the documented targets of racial violence for years at South Philly.  This is racial targeting and violence that the district openly acknowledged and claimed to be addressing this year even as it escalated into a full day assault on Asian students in December of 2009.  A racial riot that was witnessed with little to no intervention by the SPHS faculty. In fact victims of the violence witnessed members of the SPHS faculty shouting the following statements: “Where you from?” “Hey, Chinese!” “Yo, Dragon Ball.” “Are you Bruce Lee?” “Speak English.”

And even though the district leadership had volumes of knowledge of the ‘racial tension’ at SPHS it seems that the administration was a bit confounded about even naming let alone addressing overt racial bias victimization and violence directed at Asian American and particularly Asian immigrant students.   Immediately following the incident the district went on record stating this was not a racist incident. It took a student boycott to start any conversation at all, and according to Helen’s newest report the learning curve is still pretty flat for the district’s administration and leadership.

Sounds a little hard to comprehend doesn’t it.  But now let me tell you that South Philly High is nearly entirely populated by racial and ethnic minority students and the vast majority if not all of the racial violence directed at Asians was perpetrated by black students.  So obviously this couldn’t be racial victimization….  there must be a more clear and accurate term we could use for this sort of violence.  Okay I’ll avoid my excesses of sarcasm and just say it, the district jumped to suggestions of ‘gang like’ fighting and pointed to an Asian student as the one who ‘drew first blood’ by jumping a disabled kid.  I – kid – you – not !   

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that this never happened and a discipline hearing which confirmed that this did not happen… the district stuck to this narrative of a ‘gangsta’ Asian boy starting it all on December 2nd.    (Update: On March 19th following an investigative report on the district’s railroading of this student – the school district cleared the name of this wrongly accused student.)  

And all along as they were building this narrative of gangsta fighting among the bad kids, they were glossing over the racial injustice with the Superintendent posing for a photo op in front of all the good African American kids – the kids she calls – the real face of SPHS and suggesting this whole mess was just infighting between those bad African American kids and the fake face of SPHS… you know… the immigrants.   Don’t read me as saying there are not good African American students at SPHS.  Of course there are and that has about as much to do with this how the district was addressing the situation as…. well it has nothing whatsoever to do with the districts diversionary tactics.  Though the students of all groups seem ready and willing to address the confounding problems of race and poverty in ways the school administration seems less willing to acknowledge.

To the administration the simple and expedient answer to this problem was to lable it infighting. And then sort out the discipline.

I will simply point you to the Racialicious posting on the history of this problem to consider how shallow this move was on the districts part.

There is a long and violent history of this racial problem in a very poor and diverse minority community.

To simply lable this infighting suggests that the 27 people who were jumped as they were running from mobs were ‘fighting.’

Infighting suggests that the ‘ringleader’ who was jumped by 15 boys was ‘fighting.’

Infighting suggests that somewhere there is substantial evidence of  a counter show of force directed at the African American youth by this relatively small group of  limited English-speaking Asian at SPHS.  It suggests a history of racial aggression coming from Asian students who are outnumbered 3 to 1 by their African American peers.   There isn’t.

What an utterly disingenuous response by the school district. 

And one that has resulted in this sort of educational treatment of the victims as criminals:

Hao Luu’s troubles began Dec. 2 when, Asian activists say, he was accosted in the hall of South Philadelphia High by a student who yanked the earphones out of his ears.

After school that day, Luu was followed by 10 to 15 students and beaten so badly that he vomited.

What followed over the next two months outraged Asian advocates: Luu was ordered transferred from the school, despite having won his case at a disciplinary hearing. He was accused of being in a gang, an allegation strongly denied by his family. At one point, officials accused Luu of taking part in a fight in 2008 – a time when he was living in Virginia, according to his family and supporters.

To bring you more up to date in a recent posting on this mess at SPHS Helen Gym points to investigative reporting by three local news papers who recently re-inserted the detailed story of the racial victimization into the districts convenient narrative of mutual ‘gang like’ feuds and fighting.

In riveting testimony earlier this week at the School Reform Commission, the grandmother of one of the Asian student victims wept as she described the calculated efforts of school personnel who had scapegoated and unjustly forced out her grandson following a brutal assault upon him Dec. 2.

Her grandson was harassed in school then severely beaten outside of school the day before the Dec. 3 attacks at South Philadelphia High School. The school never investigated the incident yet somehow punished the student, arguing first that the student had attacked a “disabled” African American student thereby triggering the December 3 violence. When that story unraveled he was then cast as a gang member by school officials as part of their new narrative that Dec. 3 was located in gang violence and a broader pandemic of violence throughout the city.

Latoya Peterson also has a new post up at Racialicious about the slow-to-no justice or leadership being serve to all of the students of South Philadelphia High School.   She spends her time considering the continuing invisibility of this story in the mainstream media.  When considering all the players in this situation there is nary a white person in sight, from the aggressors, to the students, to the school leadership.  And so Peterson concludes:

The mainstream media does not find this story compelling because it is the story of the brown, the story of the poor, the story of generation 1 and generation 1.5, the story of kids with accents, the story of violence between two groups no one wants to talk about anyway.

Thankfully there are community leaders like Helen Gym, small city presses in Philly like the City Paper, and bloggers like Latoya Peterson and Angry Asian Man, among countless others who refuse to let the adminstration get out the big broom while the MSM and the public spend their time on more relevant news.

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