What should be national news: The S. Philadelphia High

This is what I’ve been hoping to post earlier, right after attending NYCAASC (4/17/10).  Then finals came along, other posts came along, and then my obsession with Tumblr…

December 3, 2009:  The Horror, Oh the Horror…

9 am- dozens of Asian students, particularly immigrants, were assaulted throughout the day in South Philadelphia High School.  Inside and outside on school grounds, violence and terror erupted.  School cafeteria, hallways, classrooms, stairwells and on the streets, there was no escape from the attacks.  This all happened with the full knowledge by teachers and school officials, but nothing was done to ameliorate the situation.  After school, Principal LaGreta Brown walked 10 Vietnamese students toward large masses of students.  They were later chased and beaten by the same crowd of 30-40 students, all within distance of the principal and 100 bystanders surrounding the upfront attacks.  13 Asian students sustained injuries severe enough to be sent to the hospital, more than two dozen total had been assaulted, and a significant more traumatized for a long time.

At Philadelphia, Asian students have been targets for harassment and discrimination over several years.  Previous incidents included name-calling, racial slurs, verbal threats, intimidation, blows & punches, and beatings.  But the violence intensified.  Gangs physically pummeled Chinese students.  In the cafeteria, when the bell rang to signal “Go”, students turned to beat the nearest Asian immigrant boy or girl.  Food and drinks were chucked at them.  They were treated like punching bags and nobodies.  The terror has spread to hallways, outdoors, down the block on the way home, and even at the subway.  Danger lurked like a shadow.  Fear permeated the students.  Where were the adults and administrators who are there to ensure a safe learning environment?  How on earth can these students adapt to America when America is hurting them?  How can they focus on their education and future when all they face is racism, hate, and fear every day?

And to add to that, the school administration has chosen to do NOTHING. The administration, particularly the principal, is supposed to be there to serve and protect the student body, NOT to deny the bloody violence unfolding each day or blame the very victims.  Teachers have participated in making condescending remarks to Asian students.  This is completely outrageous and disgusting.  During 2008-09, there were 26 documented incidents of physical violence against Asian students, but the school district has done minimal work to address this situation.

Racial tensions are still boiling today.  In this urban community, Asians are bearing the brunt of the violence and hate.  America is supposed to represent liberty, opportunity, and tolerance, but the society has failed to uphold these very tenets.  Instead, these students are trapped in uncertainty and dysfunction.

However, I admire the students who braved this horrific front.  Several high school students were part of a panel detailing the pain, the torment, the discrimination, and the inaction they faced.  They became activists, the very leaders to raise awareness and enact social change.  The Asian-American community at S. Philadelphia High united to fight and take a stand.  Petitions were signed.  Meetings were held to share experiences and determine resolutions.  One student, Wei Chen, created such a group- Chinese-American Student Association- to lead discussions and provide a haven for students.

In response to the Dec. 3, 2009 attacks, SASA (South Philadelphia High School Asian Student Advocates) emerged, a medley of community organizations and individuals working to fight against persistent anti-Asian/anti-immigrant violence in the neighborhood.  Following the brutality, the school district has failed to respond to the incidents and has instead participated in a campaign of misinformation and retaliation against the Asian community.  Here are several of SASA’s concerns in light of Dec. 3:

1. Continuous harassment– Yes, the violence has not stopped.  2 Vietnamese students were chased down, and following identification of the aggressors, the administration failed to punish them.  Also, a Chinese student was assaulted after leaving the bathroom.  After he called his parents, his mother was not allowed into the school.

2. Failure to implement proper measures against ongoing harassment– There have been no basic training for staff and students in case future harassment occurs.  There have been no new trainings to enhance communication with immigrant families, such as filing complaints and incident reports.  Anti-Asian/immigrant bias has not been explored within the school.  The school has not contacted community groups that are in touch with anti-Asian harassment.  AND, months after the December incidents, no school officials have communicated with victims to check on their status and well-being.

3. Retaliatory efforts– The school district has been working to break up the ESOL program, where services were provided to help student learn English.  It has been a refuge for immigrant students facing extensive harassment. In addition, there have been retaliation against boycotters and supporters of the Asian students.  One Vietnamese student was transferred out of the school, after having been implicated as a “gang member” and “instigator” of the December violence.

4. Misinforming the public– The school has attempted to exclude the racially motivated nature of the December attacks.  The day before, one official (Dr. Ackerman) alleged that an attack on an African American student by Asian students sparked the assaults.  Dr. Ackerman also made uncorroborated allegations that the December attacks were gang-related and multiracial.  Further investigation showed that these allegations had no evidence. based solely on hearsay.

5. Limitations of Giles’ investigation– This was ordered by the school district, but it was prejudiced and failed to find any wrongdoings on the district’s part.  The final report largely ignored the extensive history of anti-Asian sentiment and harassment.  Crucial witnesses were not interviewed.  A range of events were not accurately assessed.  As a result, there is evidence of deliberate intent to ignore and misinform the general public regarding anti-Asian discrimination.

6. Race-baiting & racially divisive language– Top district officials have been adding to the racial tensions and blaming Asians.  The Superintendent referred to an audience of non-Asian students as the “real face” of SPHS during a press conference.  He continued to misinform and repudiate the charges.  He referred to the post-Dec 3 incidents as an “Asian political agenda.” Student boycotters were blatantly excluded from participation in presentations.  Most significantly, such behaviors and inappropriate actions gives us the feeling that the school district overlooks and supports anti-Asian, anti-immigrant hatred, that still looms large today.

An 8-day boycott was a major symbol of activism, an act of civil disobedience to raise attention to anti-Asian violence and command a proper, productive administrative response.  These students have demonstrated ambition, strength, and persistence in their fight against injustice.  They have worked hard as a team to surpass this egregious form of adversity.  I commend them for speaking out and continuing to fight for their rights and liberties.  In writing this blog, I am supporting this cause whole-heartedly and I hope my readers will too.  Here are some resources I will post to spread support and knowledge. Remember, be active and spread the word.  This is all too real and too wrong.

http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/Asian-Students-Under-Assault.html

aaunited.org

Write a letter of support to the Dept of Justice calling for a lawsuit against the district, write a letter to local newspapers calling for attention and answers, call Rep. Bob Brady, do something.

** Update 5.13.10- School principal plans to resign at the end of the year!!!

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/breaking/20100513_South_Phila__principal_resigns.html

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