A 75-year-old man from Hong Kong died in Oakland, California, on Thursday, after being robbed and assaulted by a man police said had a history of victimizing elderly Asian people.
Pak Ho had been taking his early morning walk on Tuesday, authorities said, when a man approached him to forcibly rob him. In the course of the robbery, the man allegedly punched Ho, causing him to fall to the ground, hit his head and suffer a traumatic brain injury.
Police on Thursday arrested Teaunte Bailey, 26, in connection with the robbery.
Police said that through their investigation, they “learned that the suspect has a history of victimizing elderly Asian people”. In addition to Ho’s death, prosecutors also charged Bailey with the robbery and assault of a 72-year-old Asian man at an Oakland senior care home in February. Authorities said Bailey allegedly broke into the senior living apartment, shoved the victim while saying “money, money” at him, before leaving with the victim’s phone and numerous other items from the home.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland police chief, in a statement. “Our elders should be protected, not the victim of a deadly assault.”
Bailey’s arrest comes amid reports of anti-Asian violence, particularly against Asian elders, across the country. Earlier this year, an 84-year-old Thai man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, was killed in a seemingly unprovoked attack in San Francisco.
Anti-Asian sentiments, fueled for years by the Trump administration’s trade war with China, exploded with the pandemic and Donald Trump’s bigoted usage of “China virus” and “kung flu”. Advocates and community organizers have called for action and more awareness of anti-Asian hate, as well as unity between different communities in the face of racial divisions.
Oakland’s Chinatown, in particular, has experienced a spate of robberies and assaults in the past few weeks, including an incident in which a man shoved three individuals to the sidewalk.
“It’s just been one after the other,” said Carl Chan, president of Oakland’s Chinatown chamber of commerce, to the Guardian. “It’s been so difficult.”
Chan said the Bay Area’s Asian community feels unheard and unprotected, frequently complaining about the same individuals coming back into their neighborhoods to rob their stores and victimize their elders. Yet they still keep returning, and their community members keep getting hurt, Chan said.
Chan is frustrated. To the community, these attacks feel like hate crimes, Chan said, even though authorities haven’t qualified any of the assaults as such – by definition, a hate crime is a crime motivated by prejudice of a certain group, and he wonders how someone could repeatedly target one community if that person was not fueled by hatred of that community. “All the crimes being committed by the same suspect, coming back over and over and over again, how can we not believe that is a hate crime?” he asked.
Chan spoke briefly with Ho’s three daughters, who he described as heartbroken and hurt over their father’s death. He said they were now especially concerned about the safety of community elders.
“People are facing one pandemic, we are facing two, and this is probably worse,” Chan said. “We can take a vaccine. But when we’re Asian, we have a big target on our front, our back, everywhere.”