60-year-old Vietnamese American man attacked from behind in Chicago’s Uptown, daughter says: ‘I don’t think that we should keep silent’

Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune
·6 min read

When Kaylee Cong’s father told her that a man punched him from behind last Saturday evening in the Uptown neighborhood, she wondered whether there were other Asian Americans in Chicago with similar stories of violence against them.

Cong said her 60-year-old father waited until the next morning to tell her about why his head throbbed because his generation was accustomed to staying silent about such struggles. She felt differently and on Sunday filed a Chicago police report on his behalf that a spokesman told the Tribune was “under investigation.” Later that week, she also posted his account on her nail salon’s Instagram account with the hashtag “#stopasianhate,” a slogan that many in the Asian American community and beyond have posted in response to a recent reported wave of violence and racism against them in the U.S.

“I still think that my dad is not the first victim because you know how our Asian parents, Vietnamese parents, like if something like this happened to them, I think most of them what they do is they ... keep silent,” Cong, 32, said. “Our generation, I don’t think that we should keep silent.”

In a phone call, her father declined to be interviewed but allowed his daughter to speak on the incident. Cong said he told her that he went out for his daily walk at about 11 p.m. on March 20. He was going south on the east side of North Broadway near West Ainslie Street when he was hit on the left side of his head, his daughter said.

Her father froze at first as the man he believed punched him continued walking for about 100 feet. The 60-year-old snapped a picture with his cellphone that Cong showed the Tribune, but only a silhouette was captured. After turning around, her father saw another man standing on the sidewalk in front of him with a baseball bat tucked under his arm, Cong said.

Her father put his phone to his ear and shouted, “I’m calling 911.” The two stared at each other for at least a minute until Cong’s father decided to continue walking north past the man, on the road to avoid him, and headed home.

Cong said her father told her he couldn’t see the first man, just his black clothing, but the second man did not appear Asian. Both were taller and bigger than him, he said to Cong.

He did not call police because he felt discouraged by his limited English, Cong said. Even though she urged him, Cong’s father did not go to the hospital because he is uninsured and did not want to become a financial burden, she said.

Cong described a “hard” process of filing a report and waiting for Chicago police to connect with her and her father, but a spokesman said there was a mistake in her report that caused it to be rejected.

Shortly after speaking with her father, who visited her nail salon about 3 p.m. Sunday, Cong called 311 because a half-day had passed, and the operator transferred her to a line that no one picked up. Then she dialed 911 and was told to call back when she got home. When she called 911 a second time about 6:30 p.m., the operator transferred her to another line that wasn’t answered, Cong said.

Cong filled out an online police report about 8:30 p.m. But it was rejected the next day because she classified the alleged attack as a simple assault instead of a battery, Chicago police spokesman Don Terry told the Tribune. Reports of battery, which involve physical contact, require a statement to a police officer. But Cong did not know that, she said, and she missed the email informing her she had to take further steps to complete the report.

“Filing a report shouldn’t be that hard,” Cong said.

Terry said as of Friday, Cong and her father were in contact with 20th District officers, and Terry said the investigation remained pending.

In a statement later Friday afternoon, Terry said, “We will not tolerate violence against any members of our community and will investigate all reported incidents thoroughly. … Our district commanders are working with local community leaders, advocates and business owners throughout Chicago’s Asian American Pacific Island (AAPI) community to reinforce our commitment to protecting the lives, rights, and property of all people in Chicago.”

Following the shootings across three Atlanta-area spas earlier this month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced increased Chicago police patrols in the city’s Asian American neighborhoods.

It is unclear whether there are similar stories to Cong’s father’s out there in Chicago. Chicago police do not release statistics on the race of victims in their online data portal.

Cong said police told her it is inconclusive at this point whether this incident was a hate crime because the men did not say anything to her father. Nevertheless, she and her father believe it was, Cong said. Terry said the possibility of it being a hate crime is “part of the investigation.”

“I still think that it’s a hate crime because I don’t think anybody would like to attack somebody that did nothing to them,” Cong said. “He was just walking on the street by himself, and he didn’t do anything to anybody.”

Nationwide, anti-Asian hate crime reports surged by 149% last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University’s San Bernardino campus. That is despite a 7% drop overall in 2020 hate crime reports. New York City saw the greatest increase at 833%, researchers found.

Chicago’s statistics remained flat in both the study and Chicago police’s hate crimes dashboard. Last year, two reports of anti-Asian hate crimes were filed to Chicago police, according to its website. That was the same total as in 2019.

Cong said she decided to tell the public about her dad’s ordeal because she wants to set an example of Asian Americans speaking up in the face of injustice.

“I want others to know that if you see anything happening like this you know on the road, if you witness it, or something like that, then you have to speak up or stand up by them,” Cong said. “For our old generation … it’s hard for them to speak up for themselves and all that. So I really hope that if you see something like this just stand up, speak up for them.”

ayin@chicagotribune.com