PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia transit officials say a woman was beaten by two juveniles on a train Tuesday evening, just hours after hundreds of people gathered at a rally prompted by an attack on the train last month.
The rally against Asian American hate was organized after what authorities have called a racially motivated attack on four Asian high schoolers two weeks ago, but SEPTA officials said it was unclear if the assault Tuesday was also racially motivated. The assaults are the latest in a string of violent attacks on SEPTA vehicles that have spurred concerns from community members and city officials about safety on the city's public transportation system.
A spokesperson for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority said the altercation Tuesday involving a 27-year-old Asian American woman and two juveniles, ages 12 and 13, started when they bumped into each other as the Market-Frankford Line train lurched.
According to a preliminary SEPTA police report, all three boarded the train around 6:40 p.m. at 15th Street. A few stops later, the juveniles bumped into the woman as the train car jerked forward. The woman pushed them off of her and a verbal altercation occurred, escalating to each of the juveniles striking the woman in the face.
The woman told SEPTA police that neither juvenile had used a racial slur during the altercation and no threats were made to her life. Police said her glasses were broken, and she suffered minor injuries including a cut to her lip and a possible scratch on her eye. The woman declined medical treatment at the SEPTA station.
Officers found the two juveniles a short time later. SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said the two were charged with simple assault.
In the attack on November 17, four Black teenagers were seen in a video posted to social media yelling slurs at three Asian American students. A fourth Asian American student, Christina Lu, who spoke at the rally against hate Tuesday, stepped in to ask the girls to stop.
The video shows the Black teens, ages 13 to 16, banging Lu's head on the subway door and hitting her as she lay on the ground. The teens were charged with ethnic intimidation and other assault charges.
Lu, an 18-year-old high school senior, called for unity at Tuesday's rally, saying that regardless of race or other characteristics, all people want “public safety in the city of Brotherly Love.”
The attack on Lu and the other Asian American students was one of a handful of violent interactions on public transportation that also prompted a joint City Council committee hearing to address safety on SEPTA vehicles Monday. SEPTA officials noted they had placed a police officer at the Olney Station on the Broad Street Line — where the teens had boarded from separate high schools — during school dismissal times.
But with other attacks including a June shooting on a moving train, the rape of a woman within view of other passengers in October that drew international attention and an attempted rape at 69th Street Station in Upper Darby just a few days later in October, community members and transit workers are calling for more measures systemwide to increase safety.
SEPTA officials said the transit authority police department is understaffed by more than 40 officers, but representatives of the officers' union said that is an underestimate because of callouts and other issues that mean some SEPTA districts have single digit officers on duty during a shift.
Both the officers' union and representatives from the Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents about 5,000 SEPTA workers, balked at a transit authority move to hire more security guards to monitor stations, saying more armed police who can intervene in violent situations were needed.