Last week in Philadelphia was a time for I-can't-believe-this-kind-of-thing-still-happens-in-2009 stories. First was had the case of Joaquin Rivera, a leader of the city's Puerto Rican community who walked into a hospital ER with chest pains, was ignored as he sat there dying over 11 minutes and then was robbed of his watch by three thugs. Then we had the case of South Philadelphia High School, where in just one day more than two dozen children were hunted down and assaulted for one reason: Their race. The attacks on Asian-Americans by fellow students -- mostly African-Americans, by most accounts -- are an outrage, one of the biggest stains on this already much-scarred city in a long time.
I just edited the Daily News story for tomorrow's paper and I see that while at least 10 kids have been suspended -- meaning that authoritries know some of the alleged perpetrators of the violence -- no one has been arrested. Why not? I realize that normally "a fight in school" is something that should be handled through school discipline, but what happened in South Philadelphia High seems to have gone well past that, and I think it's going to take a little more than increased sensitivity training to send a message to both the students who were involved and their parents. And the school's principal certainly also merits a closer look from her higher-ups, for allowing the situation at the school to deteriorate to this disgraceful point.
South Philadelphia has a large and vibrant Asian community; many of the families there are refugees from Vietnam or Cambodia, two nations that were ravaged by war a generation ago and -- in the case of Cambodia -- ruled for years by a genocidal dictator. These are parents who came here with a dream of raising their children where they would be free but also, first and foremost, safe. Instead, their kids were chased through school corridors by a mob, punched, kicked, and assaulted. What happened at South Philadelphia High was racism, pure and simple. And the community needs to say: Never again.