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A 17-year-old Syrian refugee was attacked on a trolley in San Diego on Tuesday, and police are investigating the beating as a hate crime, officials said.
The teen was returning home from school around 3 p.m. when a man approached and asked if the boy was Mexican. After the victim explained that he was Arab, the man “violently” attacked the teen while making anti-Arab and Islamophobic statements, authorities said.
The teen told officials with the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans — which promotes fair treatment of refugees — that there were people nearby, but no one intervened. He suffered an injury to his face and eye.
The assailant was in his 20s, had a goatee and was wearing a gray shirt and black shorts. He was last seen getting off the trolley at the 62nd Street station in the community of Encanto.
“All children, of any ethnicity or faith, should be safe when traveling on San Diego’s public transportation. The Islamophobic and hate-filled rhetoric used against this child is unacceptable, and is, unfortunately not surprising given the rising tide of hate-based crimes in San Diego County,” said Geneviéve Jones-Wright, PANA’s legal director.
Members of the organization, who helped the teen file a police report, added that officers initially said the incident would be investigated as a gang crime, not a hate crime.
San Diego police Sgt. Matthew Botkin didn’t know exactly what was said when the crime was reported, but said the case was “immediately recognized” as a hate crime and a detective has been assigned to the case. Botkin also said the incident was never shared with the department’s gang unit, and no references to gangs or gang activity were included in the report.
The incident happened about a week after a man was arrested on suspicion of shoving and berating three women wearing hijabs, allegedly telling them to “go back to your country.”
The suspect in that case was booked into county jail on suspicion of battery, violating civil rights with force or threats and possessing a firearm silencer.