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Racial assaults at S. Philly: What went wrong

By Helen Gym on Dec 4, 2009 01:29 PM

The latest beatings of Asian students reported at South Philadelphia High School are an outrage.

The ordeal began Wednesday, Lin said, when a Vietnamese student was jumped by 14 students across the street from the school.

Yesterday, the attackers were roaming the halls "searching for victims class by class during school," he said.

About 12:30 p.m., Tian and two friends were heading to the cafeteria when someone ran up and hit him in the head from behind, Tian said through Lin, who translated.

"I tried to escape," Tian, a freshman, said. "I ran and they chased me and beat me on the nose."

His friend Shan Chen, 18, also a freshman, was pushed to the ground, punched and kicked, Chen said.

Seven of the victims, including Tian, were treated at Methodist Hospital for scrapes and bruises.

Equally outrageous? Regional Superintendent Michael Silverman’s quote in the paper.

Michael Silverman, who oversees the city's 32 neighborhood schools, said that assaults in the school are down by 50 percent.

"We've been working with the Asian community since last year to make sure that South Philly High is an inviting place," he said.

Note: When two dozen students are tracked down and beaten room-to-room during school hours and some are sent to the hospital, excuses and a lack of outrage about the situation are not the first order of business.

Although the attacks started Wednesday, community members who've been working on violence at South Philly for 18 months weren't notified by the school. On Friday, these community members were still waiting a call back from the District.

For more than a year, a team of Asian community members has been working on the violence at South Philadelphia High School – including Asian Americans United, the Cambodian Association, Victims and Witnesses Services, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

They’ve worked respectfully and diligently for the past year to document the offenses, meet with administration, counsel Asian immigrant students, and give them confidence that these attacks are being addressed.

The community pushed for new leadership at the school, and South Philadelphia High School has a new principal as a result. According to the District, the school climate has improved and assaults at the school are down. That is to the credit of hardworking community folks who took this issue seriously.

But the latest attacks show that the climate at South Philly High, and in particular, the treatment of Asian immigrant students, is racially driven, and the attacks come out of a deeply rooted culture of abuse that is corrosive to every community member at the school, not just the victims.

Silverman’s comments above show that the District’s counting of the number of assaults gives zero insight into the climate at South Philadelphia High. They may marginally deal with victims and perpetrators, but certainly not the culture at the school that has led it for the past 18 months to this point.

Not surprisingly, the District has taken its typical form of "immediate action" – suspension.

Yippee. They’ve been suspending kids for the past 18 months since brave Asian students came forward and began demanding action from the principal and their teachers. This isn’t about grandstanding on suspensions, zero tolerance, crackdowns on the so-called “bad kids,” tough on crime, and machismo-like approaches to school violence that make the headlines.

South Philly High is a deeply troubled high school, where too many of our students are victims and where we as adults need to seriously knuckle down and address the root causes of problems.

In particular, I want to stress that I’m also sick of having folks portray the Asian immigrant students in this situation solely as helpless victims. Many of these immigrant students have become articulate and impassioned leaders for youth voices. They’ve written platforms about what they need from their principals and teachers. They need to be heard – and the recommendations they’ve made over the year taken seriously.

A new chapter needs to happen for all these young people – the assault victims, the perpetrators, and their confused peers, who need us as adults to come up with better answers than we have for the past 18 months.

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Comments (19)

Submitted by Anonymous on December 4, 2009 4:38 pm

As long as Ackerman is in control you had better expect more of the same. This is no different than what happen in San Fran when she was out there. What idiots hired her for Philly?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 5, 2009 9:54 am

Today the Philly Inquirer...has come up with one insight...that I am sure will be a surprise to all..."The Attacks at South Philly High School May be Racial..."

You don't say...

Asian students dragged out of classrooms...and the Inquirer posits that this may be a racial incident...

Welcome to Doublespeak 101...in America 2009

Submitted by Mr. Boyle (not verified) on December 4, 2009 8:04 pm

Considering the especially disgusting nature of these attacks, you would imagine a much stronger reaction from Silverman, and Ackerman. Even the best made plans cannot always thwart terrible things from happening in schools, but two days of attacks is completely unacceptable. How could any student be productive while a roving mob is attacking peers within and around the school. How these situation should be dealt with in the short-term is debatable, but in the long-term, clearly IIRP's restorative practices should be implemented to scale and with fierce commitment. What happens at South Philly between now and when climate becomes acceptable needs to stay in the media. Not doing so will only compound the glaring failure that has occurred here.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 4, 2009 10:33 pm

A ret. Philly school teacher told me...Ackerman may become part of the Obama administration...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 4, 2009 10:42 pm

this report is very biased in that it one-sidedly pre-supposes that the asian students are the "victims". an asian is quoted, but no black ppl are quoted or interviewed. well, at least i guess we have one side of the story...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2009 9:09 am

That was an odd comment. I think the report "pre-supposes" that the students who were beaten up and taken to the hospital are the victims. That makes sense to me. I'm not sure why you would seek out students of a particular race in order to get "both sides" of the story.

Submitted by Mr. Boyle (not verified) on December 5, 2009 1:26 pm

Sorry for the double post above. I went looking back here today and found the philly.com comment section instead of notebook's. There are a lot of individual choices by students and faculty that lead to this terrible event. Finding blame and solving problems are completely different things. I would hope people at this site would be more interested in discussing the later.

Submitted by the Notebook on December 5, 2009 4:51 pm

We'd like to remind commenters about our Terms of Usage. We reserve the right to remove obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable material, which includes comments that disparage an entire racial or ethnic group.

For some tips on how to engage in a respectful conversation about race, check out the comment moderation guidelines on Love Isn't Enough, a blog about parenting and race.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on December 5, 2009 5:25 pm

More press coverage of this continuing story in the Daily News, Inquirer, and Associated Press.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 5, 2009 10:26 pm

"The Attacks at South Philly High School May be Racial..."cause asians were the victims...I bet anything, if blacks were the victims...it wouldn't be a maybe....it will be a hate crime.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2009 10:19 pm

This is really a failure of our education system. Very little teaching is done in understanding other cultures. Social studies is completely neglected because it is not on standardized tests. Reading and math scores may be up, but what good is that if students are not learning about the world and the people they live with?

Submitted by nikki123 on December 7, 2009 6:49 am

I'm digusted and ashamed by this situation. It's pretty shocking that the district has been quiet about this ongoing violence at S. Philly High. Yes, it's racism Ackerman. It's ugly but it's the truth.

To Helen Gym and others: what can we do to help these students?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2009 9:19 am

The School District and the State are doing their best to address problems of violence in the schools! Then how come they couldn't come up with enough money to re-fund the position of Safe Schools Advocate. The Administration continues to grow in size, but there isn't enough money to support a position whose sole purpose was to oversee and work to improve school climate and safety. Isn't it time for the District and the Department of Education to, "put its money where its mouth is?"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2009 11:17 am

The Safe Schools Advocate's Office was a joke...sorry...money is best spent elsewhere...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 10, 2009 7:40 pm

This is a problem with deep roots in the black community, and until its solved there, there will always be this conflict. Blacks have always viewed other minorities as competition instead of being in this together. There is also RISING tensions between blacks and LATINOS across the country. Speaking on just asians though, I'd see it all the time when I lived in North Philly. When an Asian family buys a business in these neighborhoods, it is looked upon with jealousy from blacks. One of the favorite ways the blacks would harrass the asians was to order food at the store, then claim that thats not what they ordered, then curse and threaten the cashier. I saw that a lot.

Anyway, after I had to leave college for family issues, I was just kind of out there in North Philly. This nice asian family ran a store. Me being in the situation I was, in and out of jobs, I could have looked upon this asian business with the same hatred and rage that most blacks do, but instead, I chose to BEFRIEND them. I developed a close friendship with the 4 sons. One of them in particular. There were times when I had NO money, and he either gave me the food for half price, or FREE. I was unemployed and eating beef and brocoli and chicken wings with rice and sodas every night :D! Sometimes he had odd jobs for me. Its funny, because the only thing I got from my OWN people was a GUN stuck in my face outside a check cashing store :)! All I got...was CRIME! An interview for a good job came up, and he drove me to the interview place! I got hired, and thats the LAST time I was unemployed, 15 YEARS ago. Since then I moved out of the bad area to a safer community and by coincidence, thats when the crime STOPPED :)! The guy basically saved me from the streets! One of those guys that helped you along the way, that you'll NEVER forget. I'm very close to accomplishing my goals in life, and when that happens, this guy will be the first one to get a slice! I owe him that! So I learned early in life that we're all in this together. But, UNFORTUNATELY, a lot of blacks look upon asian business owners with resentment. Its passed on to next generation, the sons and daughters, which is what you're seeing at South Philly High.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 12, 2009 7:35 pm

Even though these attacks are based on race, it is stupid for other racial groups (whites) to attack blacks for attacking Asians. Isn't it a popular eating establishment in South Philly that demands that its customers speak English? We are all part of one human race. The fat cat bankers live high on the hog off our tax money while those of us just getting by are reduced to fighting each other for crumbs. People better wake up and pay attention to what is really going on!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 13, 2009 12:45 pm

Your post is stupid! How do you know it is white attacking black for attacking Asians in the first place? This nothing more than an example of dodging the point about black racism in Philadelphia being given a free license to run. We had this with the last excuse of a mayor, with a CEO who is an embarassment and now with the cowardly attacks on Asian kids by black bigots at South Philly High. Your problem is that Philadelphians ARE finally waking up to the problem and are now doing something about it. Black leaders and groups in Philly need to come out and condemn this attacks for what they are - racisim. right now you're part of the problem, not the solution. No one is attacking any Asians for not speaking English when ordering cheese steaks. Asking someone to speak in a country's native tongue is normal in most countries. It's only in America, land the namby pamby, that it's even become an issue.

Submitted by Gloria (not verified) on June 6, 2014 9:15 am
Listen, we can't simply deny differences caused by race, that would be really stupid. Yes, black people have wider noses and usually curly hair, while asian people have straight hair, small eyes and opale yellow skin. But why can't people get over them?? Lulu
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