The fatal assault in San Francisco on a defenseless elderly Thai man was the latest terrifying episode for Asian-Americans. Many of whom have endured racist taunts, rants and worse during the covid-19 pandemic.
Weary of being cooped inside during the pandemic, Vicha Ratanapakdee was impatient for his regular morning walk. He washed his face, put on a baseball cap and face mask and told his wife he would have the coffee she had prepared for him when he returned. Then, on a brisk and misty Northern California winter morning last month, he stepped outside.
About an hour later, Mr. Vicha, an 84-year-old retired auditor from Thailand, was violently slammed to the ground by a man who charged into him at full speed. It was the type of forceful body blow that might have knocked unconscious a young football player in full protective pads. For Mr. Vicha, who stood 5 feet 6 inches and weighed 113 pounds, the attack was fatal. He died of a brain hemorrhage in a San Francisco hospital two days later.
Captured on a neighbor’s security camera, the video of the attack was watched with horror around the world. Among Asian-Americans, many of whom have endured racist taunts, rants and worse during the coronavirus pandemic, the killing of a defenseless older man became a rallying cry the New York Times reports.
Mr. Vicha’s family described his killing as racially motivated, and it spurred a campaign to raise awareness by many prominent Asian-Americans, who used the online hashtags #JusticeForVicha and #StopAsianHate.
19 year-old arrested for attack
“The killing of Vicha was so plain as day,” said Will Lex Ham, a New York-based actor, who after watching the video flew from New York to San Francisco to help lead protests and safety patrols in Asian neighborhoods. “There was no longer any way to ignore the violence that was happening to people who look like us.”
Antoine Watson, a 19-year-old resident of neighboring Daly City, was arrested two days after the attack and charged with murder and elder abuse. He has pleaded not guilty but his lawyer admits that his client had an “outburst of rage.”
Chesa Boudin, the San Francisco district attorney, says Mr. Vicha’s death was heinous. But he says there is no evidence to suggest it was motivated by racial animus.
Still, at a time when demands for racial justice have rocked a demographically evolving nation, the killing of Mr. Vicha was notable for the galvanizing anger it brought to a diverse group that encompasses people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian and Southeast Asian heritage. The killing of a Thai man in America has given voice to a united community under the umbrella of an Asian-American identity.
In the weeks since it happened, Mr. Vicha’s death has become a symbol for the vulnerability that many in the Asian-American community feel in this moment.
For his family, the death has been devastating both in California and abroad. In Thailand, the killing was front-page news and described as barbaric, a life cut short in a family where siblings typically live into their late 90s, relatives say.
Since his retirement in 1996 from Kasikornbank, one of Thailand’s largest financial institutions, Mr. Vicha had traveled between San Francisco, where his eldest daughter lives, and Thailand, where his youngest does.
For months Mr. Vicha had been pining to return to Thailand but was unable to because of the pandemic. He disliked the chilly and wet San Francisco winter and missed his favorite southern Thai dishes and his extended family and friends.
His brother, Surachai Ratanapakdee, 89, now the only surviving sibling of eight children, remembered Mr. Vicha as studious and curious about the world outside the rice paddies, watermelon fields and orchards of the family farm.
“Vicha was one of only a few people in the village who spoke English well,” Mr. Surachai said.
Mr. Vicha went on to study at Thammasat University in Bangkok, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions.
His older daughter, Monthanus, described her father as a devoted Buddhist. She remains puzzled why on the morning of the attack he left without his Buddhist amulet, a talisman of protection that he always wore around his neck.
When Ms. Monthanus expressed her desire to go to graduate school two decades ago, Mr. Vicha supported her decision to enroll in business school at the University of California, Berkeley. After her graduation, when Ms. Monthanus married and decided to stay in San Francisco, Mr. Vicha and his wife came to help raise their grandchildren.
— All Men are Created Equal (@AllMenAreEqual2) February 25, 2021