Police are investigating an alleged attack on a Syrian teen on a San Diego trolley as a hate crime, reports CBS affiliate KFMB-TV.
The 17-year-old was FaceTiming with a friend on the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System trolley near Encanto as he was coming home from school Tuesday afternoon when a man apparently approached him and asked if he was Mexican, attorney Geneviève Jones-Wright told the station.
The teen replied, "No, I am Arab," and that's when the man started beating him, Jones-Wright told the station.
"The guy started to pummel him all over the face with closed fists," said Jones-Wright, a lawyer with the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), a San Diego group that advocates for the inclusion of refugees. "He was cursing. He was saying derogatory language towards him and anti-Arab remarks."
Jones-Wright said other people were on the trolley, but the teen said no one intervened to help him.
Jones-Wright said the man eventually got off the trolley. The teen went home and reported the incident to police through her group, PANA. She said the boy suffered an injury under his eye, and released an image that partially obscured his face to protect his identity.
San Diego police have not yet identified a suspect, KFMB-TV reports. They are investigating the incident as a hate crime and also as a misdemeanor battery. Police say they are reviewing surveillance video.
"It is concerning for us, and that is why we had an officer go out and take a crime report first thing this morning," San Diego Police Lieutenant Shawn Takeuchi told the station.
The Metropolitan Transit System said each trolley had nine cameras, the station reports, but video of the incident has not been made public.
The incident comes amid concern as reports of.
"A child, no matter what faith, no matter what religion or race or nationality, should be able to return home from school [safe]," Jones-Wright told the station.
Hate crimes are also on the rise in San Diego County, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, which in August documented 437 hate crimes there between 2014 and 2018. On April 27, a gunman opened fire with an assault rifle killing one person and injuring three. Prosecutors say the 20-year-old suspect was motivated by hate.
"Hate crimes are specifically concerning because of the impact it has on not only the specific victim of the crime, but also the community as a whole," said San Diego police Lieutenant Daniel Meyer, the department's liaison to the LGBTQ community, told the Union-Tribune in August. "Victimization and targeting of any particular group of people because of who they are as a person is an attack on the community and what that community stands for."