Two immigrant students attacked at Bok

Two newly arrived Chinese immigrants recently were attacked at Bok High School in South Philadelphia, authorities said.

The incident occurred Friday morning, when the freshman boys were kicked and punched by a large group of students, according to Philadelphia School District and police accounts.

The students required hospital treatment. They did not attend school Monday.

One assailant has been arrested and charged with assault. The 14-year-old, whom school officials said had already been suspended this school year, is African American, as are 72 percent of Bok students. About 15 percent are Asian, 7 percent are Latino, and 5 percent are white.

Early district reports indicated that the incident occurred on a freshman hazing day and that race was not a motivating factor, but the investigation is ongoing, school officials said.

Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United, took exception with that conclusion. "It's our understanding that two recent immigrant Asian youths were beaten and sent to the hospital, and this didn't happen to other kids at that school," said Gym. "For the district to say that it wasn't racial seems awfully premature. It feels an awful lot like they're normalizing violence."

Gym said her organization was "deeply troubled" by the district's response.

"Frankly, we feel like we are starting to revisit the same troubling issues we encountered all last year," she said.

Tensions have been running high in South Philadelphia since December, when seven Asian students required hospital treatment after being attacked by groups of mostly African American students at South Philadelphia High. That incident, the subject of a federal investigation, was racially motivated, authorities have said.

According to district spokesman Fernando Gallard, officials at Bok, Edison, and Washington High Schools had learned that Friday was designated "Freshman Day" by some students - a day for hazing ninth graders.

At Edward W. Bok Technical High School, at Ninth and Mifflin Streets, principal Larry Melton warned students via a public address announcement that no trouble would be tolerated, he said. Melton also left a recorded phone message for all Bok parents Friday morning before the incident.

The incident happened on the vocational school's sixth floor during a class change. Two Asian students - one 14 and one 15 - were walking to class when the 15-year-old was attacked by about 10 students, the victim told police.

The 14-year-old jumped in to help his friend, and was then attacked himself.

Gallard said that just before the attacks, a group of students began chanting "Freshmen! Freshmen!"

Law enforcement officials said that a school police officer and his partner noticed a large crowd of students gathered and moved forward to disperse them. As they did, they heard another commotion on the same floor and moved toward it.

The school officers turned a corner and saw another large crowd of students, most of whom fled when the officers approached. They saw the 14-year-old crouched against a hallway wall as an assailant punched him in the face and on the side of his head.

When the assailant spotted the officers, he took off running. They tracked him down and he was charged with assault and related offenses, police said.

The name of the 14-year-old attacker is not being released because of his age.

The two victims were first treated in the nurse's office, where they were joined by Melton, a bilingual counseling assistant who translated for them, the school's climate manager, and a school police officer.

Wei Chen, an activist who last year led the Chinese American Student Association at South Philadelphia High, said that one of the victims' mother had gotten his phone number and called him to say that her son had been beaten.

Chen called South Philadelphia Victim/Witness Services, then went to the school, where he saw the students coming out of the nurse's office. He spoke with them about what had occurred and documented their injuries by taking pictures on his cell phone, he said.

The two boys later went to the Methodist Hospital emergency room, but were released with minor injuries, officials said.

Other students were interviewed Monday by Bok officials but denied involvement in the attack, Melton said. When the victims return to school, he will ask them for help identifying other attackers, he said.

Melton said he would recommend that the arrested student be expelled.

"We're treating this very seriously," said the principal of the 1,200-student school.

But "I'm pleased to say that this was an isolated incident by some kids who didn't take my advice that we wouldn't tolerate anything," Melton said late Monday. "Today was quiet. We had no disruption, no disturbances."

After a day of speaking to students and reviewing the incident, "the facts so far lead us to believe that this is not an ethnic incident," Melton said.

No other Freshman Day incidents were reported at Bok, Edison or Washington.

Bok was recently named Pennsylvania's top-scoring vocational school as judged by state standardized tests.

Melton said he addressed students during every lunch period on Monday.

"I said, 'Brag about how Bok is the No. 1 [vocational] school,' " Melton said. "I said, 'Don't do anything stupid.' "

 


Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.