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San Francisco Family Marks 1st Anniversary of Thai Grandfather Vicha Ratanapakdee's Death

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX/AP) -- On their final night together, father and daughter watched the news and traded goodnight kisses on the cheek. The next morning, Vicha Ratanapakdee was assaulted while on a walk in San Francisco and died, becoming yet another Asian victim of violence in America.

On Sunday, Monthanus Ratanapakdee marked the one-year anniversary of her father's death with a rally in the San Francisco neighborhood where the 84-year-old was killed. She was joined by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, local leaders and several hundred people who came out to say they would stay silent no more.

A man and woman were arrested following the Jan. 28 attack near Fortuna and Anzavista avenues that left Ratanapakdee with life-threatening injuries. He died two days later.

"My father Vicha was a kind, family man," said Monthanus Ratanapakdee, standing at a podium not too far from where her father was shoved to the ground. "My father, Vicha, was like a friend to me, we liked to talk about everything, we are here today to mourn his passing. I know my father, Vicha, is looking down on us today."

Mayor London Breed was among the many city leaders who joined the rally to reflect Vicha Ratanapakdee's loss and the impact that had on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in San Francisco and across the country.

"I know when we saw that video, it was heartbreaking, it still is heartbreaking, I still feel a lot of the pain and the hurt and, sadly that never goes away," the mayor said. "Today we come together knowing that there have been other victims, sadly, in this city and in this country. We come together to remember them, to make sure they are not forgotten."

Last July, District 2 supervisor Catherine Stefani proposed renaming Sonora Lane, located just south of Geary Boulevard and east of Masonic Avenue, as Vicha Ratanapakdee Way.

Stefani praised Ratanapakdee's daughter Monthanus for not letting the loss of her father keep her in sorrow. She also reminded the crowd about new data released last week showing hate crimes against the AAPI community up more than 500 percent in San Francisco, from 2020 to 2021.

"For [Monthanus] to turn this tragedy into action, to work tirelessly to amplify the voices of our AAPI community and raise awareness to do everything in her power, to make sure what happened to her father doesn't happen to anyone else ever again," Stefani said.

San Francisco city attorney David Chiu said his father is the same age as Ratanapakdee. Chiu has a son and cherishes the moments he gets with his grandfather.

"You are our family, we grieve with you, we mourn with you and we stand with you," he said.

The rally became a march along the street where Ratanapakdee was attacked and ended with a national moment of silence as similar Asian Justice Rally events were held in five other cities across the country on Sunday.

"We are tired of this and you can't keep targeting us and we know it's happening and we're not going to sit back and we're not going to be silent," said Hudson Liao, who attended the rally and founded the group Asians Are Strong after a rise in attacks during the pandemic. "His story about how peaceful he is and how sweet of a man he was to be victimized that way, that's anybody's grandpa and we don't want that for anyone."

Some said that, even though hate crimes are on the rise, they are hopeful because their community is organized and inspired to stand up together.

"The fact that we're here today signifies hope, signifies hope for a better future, of what we can do when we do come together, of what we can do when we drive out that hate with love," Mayor Breed said.

Ratanapakdee's daughter honored him by talking about his journey to the U.S. from Thailand and the American values he admired after moving here. She was grateful to all who have shown their support not only to her family but the movement they have become a part of since his death.

"He was a gentleman and a lovely grandpa. He loved to take my son to fun sites in the city. He was a man who lived with love not with hate," Ratanapakdee's daughter said. "Please be strong in the memory of my father."

Ratanapakdee, who was raised in Thailand, feels compelled to speak out so people don't forget the gentle, bespectacled man who doted on his young grandsons and encouraged her to pursue her education in America.

"I really want my father's death to not be in vain," said Ratanapakdee, 49, a food safety inspector with the San Francisco Unified School District. "I wouldn't want anyone to feel this pain."

Asians in America have long been subject to prejudice and discrimination, but the attacks escalated sharply after the coronavirus first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. More than 10,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were reported to the Stop AAPI Hate coalition from March 2020 through September 2021. The incidents involved shunning, racist taunting and physical assaults.

In San Francisco and elsewhere, news reports showed video and photos of older Asian people robbed and knocked down, bruised and stabbed on public streets.

Last week, San Francisco mayor London Breed and police chief Bill Scott highlighted a surge in hate crimes against the city's Asian-American and Pacific-Islander (AAPI) communities as seen in new statistics from the police department.

At a Tuesday press conference in the city's Chinatown district, Breed and Scott spoke about the preliminary police data which shows the number of AAPI hate crime victims in San Francisco rose from nine in 2020 to 60 victims in 2021, nearly a 600% increase.

Breed said the data doesn't even tell the whole story and pledged to work with the police department to heighten protection and awareness, especially as the Lunar New Year celebrations approach.

"That's only people that are reporting those crimes. I know that there are a number of people that are not reporting those crimes," said Breed. "We want to make sure people feel safe, we want to make sure people are comfortable with reporting. We are aggressively in the process of doing recruitment with the police department. We are doing everything we can as the department has a number of people who are absent because of COVID to fill those officers with overtime so that we can make sure these communities are protected as we promised."

Breed laid some of the blame for the rise in hate crimes in the city and nationwide on former President Donald Trump and his rhetoric during the start of the COVID pandemic.

Raw Video: San Francisco Mayor Breed, Police Chief Scott Remarks On AAPI Hate Crime

High-profile victims nationally include Michelle Go, 40, who died after a mentally unstable man shoved her in front of a subway in New York City earlier this month. In March, a gunman shot and killed eight people at three Georgia massage spas, including six women of Asian descent ranging in age from 44 to 74. There's disagreement among officials whether those attacks were racially motivated, but the deaths have rattled Asian Americans, who see bias.

Organizers say Sunday's events in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles were to honor victims, stand in solidarity and demand more attention to anti-Asian discrimination. But organizers say they also want to spark conversation in a community where both longtime Americans and newer immigrants are often lumped together as forever foreigners.

"The tiny window of visibility we had with the 'Stop Asian Hate' movement, it really was just a glimpse of what Asian Americans feel every day, that kind of pervasive disrespect and casual contempt at our parents, our languages, our families," said Charles Jung, a Los Angeles employment attorney and executive director of the California Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

"What we really want is to encourage Asian Americans to tell their stories," he said, "and finally break the silence."

Vicha Ratanapakdee and his wife lived with Monthanus, their oldest daughter, her husband and the couple's two sons, now 9 and 12. He was on his usual morning walk when authorities say Antoine Watson, 19 years old at the time, charged at him and knocked him to the ground. Ratanapakdee died two days later, never regaining consciousness.

"My mom told me that day was the best day for my father. He was happy to go out," said Monthanus Ratanapakdee. "But it was a bad day for us, because he never came back again."

San Francisco's district attorney, Chesa Boudin, has charged Watson, who is Black, with murder and elder abuse but not with a hate crime, frustrating the family. Watson's attorney, Sliman Nawabi, has said his client was not motivated by race, and the assault stemmed from a mental-health breakdown.

The brutal attack on Ratanapakdee, caught on surveillance video, has galvanized Thai immigrants, said Chanchanit Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles, which is participating in Sunday's rally. His killing, and the overwhelming support from other Asian American communities, has made them rethink their place in the United States, she said.

"It really sparked this consciousness among Thai immigrants," she said, "that they're part of something larger."

Like in Los Angeles, organizers at the Center for Pan Asian Community Services in Atlanta say they have invited local elected leaders and community advocates to speak. Attendees will watch a recorded message from Monthanus Ratanapakdee and pause for a national moment of silence.

While there's much more to do, the country has come a long way from 1982 when two white men in Detroit upset over the loss of auto jobs to Japan fatally beat Vincent Chin, says Bonnie Youn, a rally organizer in Atlanta and board member of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

A judge sentenced the two men to probation, saying they weren't the kind of people to go to prison.

Compare that to the March 16 shootings in Atlanta and a northern suburb, Youn said, when journalists worked to make sure the Asian names of six slain women were pronounced correctly and their stories were told with sensitivity.

Monthanus Ratanapakdee says her father valued education and encouraged her over two decades ago to pursue a master's degree in business at the University of California at Berkeley. After he retired from banking, he spent time with her family in San Francisco.

She feels her father's spirit, telling her to be strong. She plans to tell fellow Asian Americans to be strong too as they unite to "raise their voice" for justice.

"We have to be one to move on together, to protect each other and to make us equal to others," she said. "We all live under the same umbrella of 'Asian American.'"

HISTORY NOTE

Sunday was Fred Korematsu Day. First declared in California 12 years ago, it was the first official state commemorative birthday in the U.S. to honor an Asian American. Korematsu refused to report to a World War II internment camp in 1942 and fought his entire life for civil rights.

© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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