Asian American community reacts to attack on Georgetown graduate student

Content Disclaimer: This article refers to violence against individuals and communities of Asian American descent.

American University graduate student Patrick Trebat, 38, attacked Sean Lai (PHD ’20), a Chinese homosexual, and his family in the Observatory Circle neighborhood last August. Students in American and Georgetown only realized it a few weeks after the incident and took action to publicize the hate crime.

Trebat shouted homophobic slurs at Lai and her family; shouted “Get out of my country” and other xenophobic remarks; and physically assaulted them, destroying Lai’s cell phone. The family were taken to hospital after sustaining non-life threatening injuries: the father’s wrist and son’s finger were broken. Trebat is now focused towards three counts of assault and destruction of property, with maximum sentences of 4.5 years and 270 days, respectively.

This attack on the Lai family reflects a rising trend in the number of hate crimes against Asian Americans. According to FBI, hate crimes against Asians increased 76% in 2020, and 20% of hate crimes committed in the same year targeted a person’s sexual orientation.

Sarah Tyree (COL ’24), co-chair of the Georgetown Asian American Student Association (AASA) Political Outreach Committee (PAC), said she initially heard about the incident from AASA Co-Chairs Keven Zhang (SFS ’23) and Emeline Ahn (COL ’23), who reported it to her and her co-chair about two months after the assault.

Tyree was shocked that news of the attack had taken so long to reach the Asian American community of Georgetown. Lauryn Ping (COL ’23), the other PAC co-chair, said her first reaction to the news was sadness, followed by exasperation and fear.

The Asian American Students’ Union (AASU) at American University released a declaration on October 8, condemning the university for its handling of the situation, alleging “attempts to clean up and sweep this information under the rug to protect both a white supremacist and the university’s own reputation.”

They also opposed an increased police presence on campus in response to the incident, asserted their stance against white supremacy and acknowledged the grief that Asian and LGBTQ + communities can feel.

“Patrick Trebat is no longer affiliated with American University and is not permitted on campus,” the official American University Instagram account added in comment below the AASU statement. The American gave no further clarification on the consequences Trebat will have to suffer from the university.

AASA has published its own declaration October 13, prepared by the PAC Co-Chairs. Ping says she and Tyree were inspired by their flow of emotions and hoped to raise awareness of the anti-Asian attack and violence.

The statement denounced not only the aggressor’s actions, but also the manner in which the case had been handled by the US attorney’s office. Although the US prosecutor classified the attack as an assault linked to anti-Asian biases, the prosecution did not include an anti-gay classification based on the homophobic remarks directed against them. “I think this is a glaring oversight because the motivations have to be explicitly addressed for there to be an adequate and comprehensive response,” Tyree said.

The statement also highlighted the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year, referring to the murder of six Asian women by a white man in Atlanta in March. The co-chairs included a call for solidarity with the Asian community. “Anti-Asian violence at the hands of white supremacists will continue to occur unless Asian Americans and their allies stand up and speak out,” the statement said.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done and justice to be done, according to Ping and Tyree. The AASA statement recognized that a statement cannot eradicate deep-rooted systems of oppression. Ping explained the profound impact this oppression and marginalization has on Asian Americans and their communities, and how the attack brought those feelings to the surface.

“It reminded me that I and all of my Asian peers have never been safe in this country. No matter how hard we work or how much we give up trying to assimilate, this country will always see us as perpetual strangers whose lives don’t matter, ”Ping said.

Trebat was released from prison after two days as part of a court release program and remained free under surveillance until his court date on November 15. The news added to some feelings among the students that justice was not taking its course.

“The refusal of the US attorney’s office to recognize both the racist and heterosexist nature of this attack, and the release of the aggressor after just two days in prison, underscores the inability of the US criminal justice system to resolve the issues facing it. Asian Americans face. and the LGBTQ + community, ”Ping said.

Sean Lai said he would issue his own statement on the incident. In the meantime, the AASA continues to organize events that facilitate discussion of issues facing Asians, such as a discussion on fetishization in October and another on immigration in December, as well as promoting the unity within the community. “We remain committed to fighting anti-Asian racism and other forms of oppression,” Ping added.

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