I met Ron Tuason at Bernie Sanders headquarters in SF last March. He was wearing a “Veterans for Bernie” button, and we talked briefly.
“I am tired of seeing my brothers and sisters who fought for this country homeless and broke and unable to get medical care,” he told me. I took his picture and gave him my business card (yeah, I’m old fashioned, but that was still a thing just a year ago, remember?)
I’m also enough of an old-fashioned reporter that I answer my phone even if I don’t recognize the caller, because: You never know.
So a few days ago, I talked to Tuason again. He had found my card, and was trying to reach someone in the news media. The Chron hadn’t responded. He couldn’t work his way through the websites and phone systems at the TV stations.
But he had a terrible story to tell of a hate crime he suffered on his way home from the grocery store. And it’s even more disturbing because it suggests that there may be a lot of Asian people out there who have been assaulted – but their stories never made the media.
Tuason, 56, grew up in the Sunset in the early 1970s when it was still largely an Irish and Italian neighborhood. There were Asian families starting to move in, but it wasn’t easy: “Kids got beat up because of the color of their skin,” he said. “And the cops didn’t do anything.”
He served in the Army in the early 1980s, in Germany. He was a combat engineer, an expert in explosives. “We saw a lot of terrorism,” he told me. “We were carrying explosive materials, and sometimes snipers would fire at us.”
Now he lives at Park Merced. On March 13, in the mid-afternoon, he was waiting for a bus at Plymouth and Ocean with a bag of groceries in his hand and more in his backpack and — a hat on his head with an American flag identifying him as a vet.
A man across the street saw him, he told me, and started screaming at him: “Go back where you came from. You caused these problems. Do you want to get hurt? You’re not a veteran I’m a veteran.”
The man looked like a white guy, possibly Hispanic, he said.
Here’s the narrative he sent me:
The man is now in my face and I’m stepping back to get some distance and he knocks the phone out of my hand and crosses the street to the bus stop where his belongings are. During this face-off he kept asking me “If I want to get hurt” repeatedly. I’m trying to ask him “What’s the problem? We don’t have to go there” (meaning no need for violence).
I picked up my phone and yelled across the street “What’s your problem? I served too!” and he charged across the street ignoring traffic. I placed my left arm out to block him from getting closer and again tried to push the record button on my phone when he hit me with a very strong overhand right (which I never even saw coming) and followed up with two quick left-hand punches followed by a knee to my face.
The first punch knocked me against a fence behind me and I hit my head against a metal pole and fell to my right side dropping my phone, grocery bag in my right hand, and knocking the prescription glasses off my face. I was seeing bright lights from the first punch, I can’t see, I couldn’t get up with my backpack full of groceries, so I covered up my head for protection.
In this case, bystanders came to his rescue and called the cops. Officers arrived quickly, and the man he identified as his assailant was still right across the street. The cops arrested him.
I made a positive I.D. and was checked out by an ambulance just in case. I agreed and was checked out by the first responders/paramedics, and signed some forms to be released so I could catch the bus to my place of residence; all I wanted to do was make some soup and rest. I got back to my rental unit with no problem with a ringing headache and with my legs slightly wobbly.
I did my best to remember all the particulars in the proper order, cook and eat. I then reported this to Stop the Hate AAPI on the internet, taking frequent breaks to watch films and pause them repeatedly. I had moderate difficulty focusing on keyboard typing and forming sentences correctly so this whole process took three-to-four hours.
The District Attorney’s Office told me the suspect, Victor Brown, is in custody and will be prosecuted.
I don’t know any details about Brown. Tuason said he thought the man was high on something.
At any rate, Tuason has nothing but positive things to say about the passers by who helped him, the cops who arrived quickly, and the DA’s Office, which he said has been very responsive. He is meeting next week with the victim support services division.
But for all the news stories we’ve seen on anti-Asian violence in SF, Tuason’s call makes me wonder: Even in San Francisco, how far has the poisonous rhetoric from the Trump corner gone? How many more cases are out there that nobody has heard about?