SAN FRANCISCO – Tired of being locked inside during the pandemic, Vicha Ratanapakdi was eager for his regular morning walk. He washed his face, put on a baseball cap and face mask, and told his wife he would take the coffee she had made for him when he returned. Then, on a busy and foggy winter morning in Northern California last month, he went outside.
About an hour later, Mr. Vicha, an 84-year-old retired auditor from Thailand, was forcibly hit to the ground by a man who attacked him at full speed. This type of strong body blow could have knocked the young football player unconscious into full protective pads. For Mr. Vicha, who was 5 feet 6 inches and weighed 1
Captured on a neighbor’s security camera, the video of the attack was watched in horror around the world. Among Asian Americans, many of whom have suffered racist ridicule, scandal and worse during the coronavirus pandemic, the killing of a defenseless elderly man has become a war cry.
Over the past year, researchers and activist groups have listed thousands of racist incidents against Asian-American countries, the growing hatred they associate of former President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus.” Mr. Vicha’s family described his murder as racially motivated and sparked an awareness campaign by many prominent Asian Americans who used the online hashtags #JusticeForVicha and #StopAsianHate.
“Vicha’s assassination was as ordinary as day,” said Will Lex Ham, a New York-based actor who flew from New York to San Francisco after watching the video to support protests and security patrols in Asian neighborhoods. “There was no longer a way to ignore the violence that was happening to people who looked like us.”
Antoine Watson, a 19-year-old resident of neighboring Daly, was arrested two days after the attack and charged with murder and ill-treatment of elderly people. He pleaded not guilty, but his lawyer admitted that his client had an “outburst of rage.”
Chesa Budin, San Francisco District Attorney, says Mr. Vicha’s death was disgusting. But he says there is no evidence to suggest that he was motivated by racial animus.
Yet, at a time when demands for racial justice have shaken a demographically developing nation, Mr Vicha’s assassination was remarkable with the fierce anger it provoked from a diverse group of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, South Asians and Southeast Asians. heritage. The assassination of a Thai man in America has given a voice to a united community under the guise of an Asian-American identity.
In the weeks since it happened, Mr Vicha’s death has become a symbol of the vulnerability many in the Asian-American community are experiencing at the moment.
For his family, the death was devastating both in California and abroad. In Thailand, the murder is news on the front page and is described as barbaric, a life interrupted in a family where siblings usually live in the late 1990s, relatives say.
After retiring in 1996 from Kasikornbank, one of the largest financial institutions in Thailand, Mr Vicha traveled between San Francisco, where his eldest daughter lives, and Thailand, where he is the youngest.
For months, Mr Vicha had planned to return to Thailand, but was unable to do so due to the pandemic. He disliked the cold, wet winter in San Francisco and missed his favorite dishes from southern Thailand and his extended family and friends.
His brother, Suracai Ratanapakdi, 89, now the only surviving brother or sister of eight children, remembered Mr. Vicha as scholarly and curious about the world beyond the rice fields, watermelons and orchards of the family farm.
“Vicha was one of the few people in the village who spoke good English,” Mr Surachai said.
Mr. Vicha continued his studies at Thammasat University in Bangkok, one of the most prestigious institutions in the country.
His eldest daughter Montanus describes his father as a devout Buddhist. She remains puzzled why on the morning of the attack he left without his Buddhist amulet, a talisman of protection that he always wore around his neck.
When Ms. Montanus expressed her desire to go to graduate school two decades ago, Mr. Vicha backed her decision to enroll in a business school at the University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, when Mrs. Montanus got married and decided to stay in San Francisco, Mr. Vicha and his wife came to help raise their grandchildren.
At the time of the attack, Mr Vicha was only months away from returning to Thailand. On January 15, he received the first shot of the Moderna vaccine.
“We said, ‘Dad, we’ll be back soon!’ Ms. Montanus remembers.
Mr Vicha’s second shot was scheduled for February 12, a meeting he would not live to see.
His assassination came at a time when other disturbing images and reports were appearing across San Francisco Bay. Three days later, an attacker hit a 91-year-old man in the Oakland neighborhood of Chinatown, another video that went viral on the Internet.
This older victim has been mistakenly described in many news accounts as Asian. Court documents named the victim as Gilbert Diaz, and Carl Chan, a community leader and president of the Auckland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said the victim was Latin American. But Mr Chan says he has listed more than two dozen attacks on Asian-American victims in Chinatown, including two others pushed by the attacker who toppled Mr Diaz.
Crime figures from San Francisco and Alameda County Attorney’s Offices, including Auckland, show that people of Asian descent were less likely to be victims of crime last year than other ethnic groups. In San Francisco, where 36 percent of the population is of Asian descent, 16 percent of victims of crimes of some ethnicity are Asians, a similar situation in Alameda County.
But Gulf leaders in the Gulf region say crime statistics are misleading, as Asian Americans, especially immigrants, often do not report attacks or robberies due to mistrust of the system or language barriers. What is undeniable, say the leaders of the Asian-American community across the country, is that the pandemic is creating a climate of fear and insecurity from New York to California. Last week, the California legislature approved $ 1.4 million in funding to track and investigate racist incidents against Asian Americans.
“Our seniors are afraid to walk their own streets,” Mr Chan said.
Last year, Ms Montanus, Mr Vicha’s daughter, was twice visited on the street by people who told her to leave the country because the attackers said the Asians had caused the coronavirus.
Mr Watson’s lawyer, Sliman Nawabi, a public defender, said his client could not identify Mr Vicha’s ethnicity through a face mask, cap and winter clothing. Mr Nawabi described Mr Watson as a man who struggles with anger.
In the hours before the attack, Mr Watson had a number of setbacks. He left home due to a family dispute and was involved in a car accident in San Francisco at 2 o’clock in the morning. He was quoted by police in San Francisco for driving a stop sign and recklessly driving and then slept in his car that night.
That morning, a number of security cameras in the area filmed Mr. Watson shaking a car with his hand, according to Mr. Boudin, the district attorney.
“It seems that the defendant was in an explosive nature,” Mr Boudin said.
Then Mr. Vicha walked up Anzavista Boulevard, a street overlooking skyscrapers in the city’s financial district.
A witness told police officers that Mr. Watson said something like “What are you looking at?” A security camera located in a neighbor’s apartment filmed Mr. Watson rushing across the pavement to Mr. Vicha, who he turned briefly to his attacker before the blow.
Two days after the attack, Ms Montanus and her mother went to the place where Mr Vicha had been killed and saw that his blood was still staining the pavement. They rubbed the sidewalk with brushes and wondered why no one in town had come to do the same.
The cremated remains of Mr. Vicha are placed in two urns. Ms. Montanus says she and her family will rent a boat under the Golden Gate Bridge and scatter some of them in the Pacific Ocean.
“I want him close to me,” she said. “When we go to the beach, we can dream that he is with us.”
She plans to return the other urn to her father’s hometown in southern Thailand, where the local Buddhist temple has a stupa that holds the family’s remains. “His brothers and sisters are there,” Ms. Montanus said. “Everyone will be together.”
The amulet, a precious family heirloom, will be passed on to the next generation, Ms Montanus said.
“He always told me that if something happened to him, it had to be passed on to his grandchildren,” she said.
Drink Amatatham contributed a report from Bangkok.