By BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News
(OAKLAND, Calif.) — A 28-year-old suspect was arrested in a series of random attacks targeting Asians in the Chinatown neighborhood of Oakland, California, including a brazen street assault of a 91-year-old man, authorities said.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced the arrest of Yahya Muslim during a news conference with Oakland’s newly appointed police chief LeRonne Armstrong.
The arrest came Monday just as two prominent Asian actors, Daniel Wu and “Hawaii Five-O” star Daniel Dae Kim, were set to put up a $25,000 reward in the search for the serial assault suspect.
The street attacks in Oakland occurred amid an alarming number of assaults on Asian people across the country, which anti-hate advocates say stem from Asians being blamed for the coronavirus.
“Racist rhetoric from the pandemic have targeted us as being the reason for coronavirus,” Wu said during Monday’s news conference. “And so Asians across-the-board have been targeted, being pushed, attacked, spat on. Outside of San Francisco, in Los Angeles and in New York, these incidents are happening all over the country.”
A motive in the Oakland Chinatown attacks has not been released.
One of the Jan. 31 attacks was on the 91-year-old Asian man and was caught on video surveillance. The footage, which went viral on social media, showed the man walking on a Chinatown sidewalk in broad daylight when a suspect, who O’Malley alleged was Muslim, walked up behind him and shoved him to the ground as witnesses watched in horror.
O’Malley said one of the attacks Muslim allegedly committed on Jan. 1 was on the 91-year-old man and was captured on surveillance video. The footage, which was posted on social media by the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and has since gone viral, showed the victim, whose name was not released, walking on a Chinatown sidewalk in broad daylight when the suspected attacker walked up behind him and shoved him to the ground.
The prosecutor alleged that on the same day, Muslim attacked two other people in Chinatown, a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman, in similar fashion.
“We have charged him with three counts of assault that involve three separate victims,” O’Malley said.
Muslim has also been charged with multiple counts of elder abuse stemming from the Chinatown attacks.
He is being held at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, on $85,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday, according to online jail records. It was unclear Tuesday morning if Muslim has hired an attorney or will be appointed a public defender.
“We recognize some in our community come to Chinatown to target people. We know they target our elderly. They come because they believe our community won’t report it to police,” said Armstrong, who was sworn in on Monday as Oakland’s new police chief. “We are excited we have already transitioned into new strategies to make Chinatown a safer community.”
Armstrong added, “We’re sending a message to those that commit crime in this city that we will pursue you and we will arrest you and it’s not acceptable for things like this to happen in our community.”
Carl Chan, president of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, told ABC San Francisco station KGO-TV that he has collected more than 20 incident reports in recent weeks and videos in Chinatown of small businesses getting robbed and owners and customers assaulted.
In March as the COVID-19 virus was just starting to sweep the globe, federal law enforcement officials warned of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans as the coronavirus crisis continued to grow.
“The FBI assesses hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities,” according to the intelligence report, compiled by the FBI’s Houston office and distributed to local law enforcement agencies across the country. “The FBI makes this assessment based on the assumption that a portion of the US public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations.”
The document, obtained by ABC News, detailed a March 14 incident in Midland, Texas, in which “three Asian American family members, including a 2-year-old and 6-year-old, were stabbed … The suspect indicated that he stabbed the family because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.”
ABC News’ Josh Margolin contributed to this report.
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