Attack Shows Common Decency in Downward Spiral

Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 2010

In Oakland, like in many U.S. cities, it’s considered foolhardy, or worse, to confront or correct a group of rowdy youngsters, especially if they’re African American or Latino.

Tian Sheng Yu, a hard-working 59-year-old Chinese immigrant, did not understand this cardinal rule. He was assaulted after speaking in his native tongue to two African American individuals who had, moments before, punched his 27-year-old son in an unprovoked attack.

Confronting violent individuals can be a risky business. In this case, it may cost Yu his life.

It’s certainly not politically correct to talk about how some young African American males might be more likely to commit violent acts, but, in Oakland particularly, it’s not a statistically inaccurate portrait either.

“There has been a failure of black parents to hold their children accountable, but only a collective (societal) failure leads to this kind of savagery,” said Olis Simmons, executive director of Youth Uprising, a city-funded youth violence prevention program.

The incident began around 3 p.m. Friday when the victim’s son, Jin Cheng Yu, was sucker-punched without provocation by one of the individuals on Telegraph Avenue while Yu’s father parked the car. When he told his father what had happened, the two men searched for the attacker and his companion and soon found them.

The elder Yu addressed the attacker and his partner in his native Mandarin, his son said. One of them responded with a punch that sent the man backward to the pavement. He suffered a head injury in the fall that has left him on life support. With the father down, the attackers went after the son again.

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“I understand some people don’t feel safe walking up and directly addressing these children–and in some cases it’s their own children,” Simmons said.

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“We need to say publicly that this kind of behavior is unacceptable in the African American community and we owe amends to the Chinese American community,” she said. “Shame on us.”

Simmons is by no means soft on crime and believes the individuals responsible for such a reprehensible act should be severely punished if found guilty of the assault.

But what is obvious, to Simmons, to me and to just about anybody who’s followed Oakland news for the last 15 years, is that there is a downward trend of common decency and respect for life.

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