When Communities Collide – Then And Now

On November 17, 2021 – four Asian American students were harassed and attacked on the SEPTA Broad Street Line by a group of young Black female students. 

Of the attacked, one young girl stepped up to diffuse the situation, standing up for her fellow Asian American students. In doing so, the girl was dragged and beaten with a shoe on the train car. Eventually a bystander recording video stepped in and stopped the assaults from going any further.

Putting their futures in jeopardy – the young black students have been charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and criminal conspiracy.

As minorities, the Asian and Black community already have enough to worry about, neither community needs racial tensions arising again especially amongst the youth, instances like these bring both communities down.

2020 had the highest number of reported hate crimes to the FBI which was 7,783.

Attacks targeting African American rose from 1,972 to 2,871 and the number for attacks targeting Asian-Americans rose from 161 to 279. (CNN)

The number of racially biased attacks raised from 30 to 59 in 2020 for Pennsylvania, majority of them against African Americans.

There were eight anti-Asian-American attacks reported in Pennsylvania. The Stop AAPI Hate group reported that during the time of March 2020 to around Feb 28, they received 3,795 reports of slander and race related incidents. (WHYY)

“The historical invisibilization and misunderstanding of our community’s pain has some to urgently call for swift justice. But we are concerned that urgency has meant calling for punishment and increased policing, which puts more people of color, especially black communities, in harm’s way. We are concerned that overt media hype and reactionary rhetoric and mobilization leave little room to actually center our young people and ask: What does justice look like for them?”


 This is not the first incident between Philadelphia’s Black and Asian communities. 

On December 3rd 2009 – at South Philadelphia High School, as many as 30 Asian students were attacked and assaulted by their fellow Black students. Many of the students were either hospitalized or seriously injured. 

Martin Hughes III decided to share his personal experiences of growing up in South Philadelphia during this time. Martin hails from the Ritner neighborhood of South Philly and speaks on growing up in the community during times of high racial tension in South Philly.

“My community means a great deal to me. I learned a lot growing up here. I’ve lived in south Philly most of my life as I was born and raised here. 

I attended P.E.T High School (Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter High School) on Broad and Chestnut, in Center City.” 

Martin Hughes III

How widespread was the news in the community when the Asian American students were attacked at South Philly High School

“When that happened, it was a big news story that caused a wave of reactions as well as conflict amongst the South Philly community. The environment was very uncertain. 

You didn’t know when the thunder of conflict would roar. Everywhere felt like a potential crime scene close by, it was getting real. 

My mother is Chinese, and my father is Black, it was hard to really sit with how I felt. It hurt to see and hear about it. I felt a sense of disappointment and vulnerability.

Many news sources say that the attacks came unprovoked by the Black students onto the Asian American students.”

Martin Hughes III

 “Was there anything in the community you could think of that could have created dislike   amongst the Asian and Black community prior to the attacks

“South Philly has notes of racism sprinkled in like salt on a pretzel. Many factors may have been involved seeping from multiple avenues prior to the incident in 2009.

Off the top of my head what I can really think of that may have played a part in racial tensions was the lack of black ownership and black owned business in the community. 

More Asian immigrants were moving in, thus bringing their culture with them. Meaning more eateries and restaurants, small neighborhood markets and more Asian influenced businesses all around. 

In turn, this meant a culture shift for certain neighborhoods and the displacement of residents (specifically black residents). 

No other ethnicities or race had a part in the tension at that time. I believe all the beef was among Asian and Blacks, period. 

The measurement of tension the South Philly High incident created is unmeasurable as it fell deep into communities and even encouraged gang violence.”

Martin Hughes III

Can you speak a little bit more about the general wellbeing of the community during this time and how you were treated amongst your fellow youth, being Black and Chinese?

“It was honestly a very paranoid time in my life. 

I walked home from school every day and would walk past South Philly high and Marconi Plaza. Even when I was out on weekends traveling through 6th street and 7th left me very uneasy. 

I didn’t know if I’d be jumped by Chinese or Black people. I remember always looking over my shoulder coming back from school, there were many times I had gotten chased on my way home.

I wasn’t even 14 yet at the time, the most memorable time was when I was chased by a group of kids who were Black in the daytime trying to rob and jump me and that same night, a group of Asian kids attempted to chase and rob my brother and I. 

That’s the type of stuff I’ll never forget. The violence at the time was pretty widespread.

I would say outside of South Philly High; I’d usually hear of violence or conflict that took place, usually between 2nd and Jackson Street to 18th and Snyder Streets, along with Marconi and Guerin parks.

It would always be ‘body of Black student found here’ or ‘Vietnamese student beaten and battered here’ or ‘Chinese youth found in park last night.’

It felt never ending, we can’t forget that a lot of the kids from schools in the community ended up being gang affiliated.”

Martin Hughes III

Would you say things calmed down at a certain point

“Things honestly didn’t calm down until about 2013 and even today the crime is still prevalent. It may be subtle, but to me it’s like walking in a minefield.”

Martin Hughes III

What do you hope to see going forward for the Black and Asian communities?

“I’d like to see joint community programs for children to appreciate each other’s cultures as well as learn about one another. 

At the end of the day both Asian and Black people have a lot in common historically, and with such massive communities working together, I believe it will be a great start to more peaceful solutions and a downward trend in crimes all around the city.”

“True safety will happen when our schools, neighborhoods and communities have the resources, restorative practices, healing and hope needed to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place.” (Vietlead)

Going forward, hopefully more awareness can be raised around topics like this, especially in community youth organizations and in Philadelphia schools.

Martin Hughes III

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