Asians say black students target them

Wei Chen, 18, president of the Chinese American Student Association at South Philadelphia High School, speaks with James Tiano, Chief Inspector for the Community Affairs Bureau of the Philadelphia Police Department, on Monday. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

 

A city with a long history of racism against African Americans can’t afford to dismiss allegations that Asian students have now become the targets of blacks.
 
Dozens of Asian students at South Philadelphia High School say they have faced verbal and physical abuse by African American students.
 
Even more troubling, students and community activists say, the alleged racial violence has been happening for years, and the district has not done enough to address the problem.
 
District officials contend that, overall, violence at the school is down 55 percent, and that progress has been made to improve race relations. That seems hard to fathom, given the reported beatings last week.
 
It is clear the school district has lots of work to do to improve race relations at the school, where 70 percent of the students are black and 18 percent Asian.
 
Last week, there were reports of at least five separate attacks inside the school and on the streets that landed at least seven students in the hospital.
 
It is no wonder that about 50 to 60 Asian students — concerned for their safety — boycotted school Monday and may stay out all week to discuss the problem and possible solutions. They deserve credit for trying to bring attention to the issue.  They are owed a thorough response from the district, not just a hasty resolution.
 
The district deserves credit for holding a series of community meetings and beefing up patrols by city and school police at the school and around the area.
 
At least 10 students have been suspended and criminal charges are also reportedly being investigated. As required by law, students who are victims of violence are eligible for transfers if requested. But there have been conflicting reports of what happened, including alarming accounts that some assailants went from classroom to classroom looking for potential victims.
 
Public education activist Helen Gym believes the district’s response amounts to temporary fixes that fail to address the bigger issues, including how Asian students are treated by students and staff.
 
The climate calls for a strong and swift crackdown as well as long-term commitment to more diversity training.
 
There needs to be a thorough investigation by district officials and interviews of students and staff, and — yes — criminal charges if warranted. Parents and students need to be assured of their safety.
 
It’s the district’s role to create an environment where all students can believe they are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.