The man who verbally harassed Olympian Sakura Kokumai and called her racial slurs was arrested after he attacked an elderly couple in the same park over the weekend, authorities said.
Kokumai, 28, was training in the Orange, California, park on April 2 when a man began yelling at her and used slurs. She shared videos to her Instagram account and spoke about it during a media event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was the video that helped get the man arrested.
The incidents come amid a sharp rise in anti-Asian hate and discrimination since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Orange County experienced a tenfold increase in hate incident reports in 2020, per the Orange County Human Relations nonprofit.
Kokumai's harasser attacked elderly couple
Michael Vivona, 25, punched two Korean Americans in the face at Grijalva Park in Orange County on Sunday evening and was later arrested, Orange police spokesman Phil McMullin told the Los Angeles Times.
The couple, a man and woman ages 79 and 80, were walking through the park when a man later identified as Vivona approached them around 7:30 p.m. He didn't say much, but punched them and knocked them to the ground, McMullin said.
Via the Los Angeles Times:
“He didn’t make any statements when he attacked the elderly couple, but it was later in our interview that his statements informed us that it was a racially motivated attack,” McMullin said, adding that Vivona made many such comments.
“He’s got this fixation against Asians. Basically he said he did it because they were Asian, I think because he said they’re Chinese.”
The couples suffered minor injuries. It was because of Kokumai's initial video that the man was arrested.
Kokumai posts about harassment
Kokumai, a seven-time karate national champion, shared video clips of a man yelling at her while training on April 2. Kokumai is a Japanese American woman born in Hawaii and competes for the U.S.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Sakura Kokumai (@sakurakokumaikarate)
The man could be heard yelling "Chinese," calling her a "loser" and telling her to "go home, you stupid b***." He told her he'd "f*** you up" as well as any male partner in her life.
In the Instagram comments, she wrote that though people were around, they chose to do nothing about the incident. Her objective, she wrote, was to raise awareness and show "this is happening."
Kokumai's post leads to arrest
McMullin said the park goers on Sunday were aware of the Instagram post and Olympian's story and recognized the man. He was wearing the same black shirt and orange shorts as he was in her video, McMullin told the Times.
They surrounded the man after he attacked the elderly couple and called police, per the Times. An officer nearby responded and arrested Vivona at the scene.
“The community was awesome,” McMullin said. “It wasn’t like they were beating him down … but they recognized him.”
He was taken into custody for elder abuse, criminal threats and hate crimes in connection to both cases. His arraignment is schedule for Tuesday and there are currently no formal charges.
Increase in anti-Asian hate crimes
Asian Americans have experienced racially charged attacks and discrimination more often during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Incidents are particularly high in certain cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, and the overall number of hate crimes jumped 150 percent, per an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
The incidents are still on the rise in 2021 with STOP AAPI HATE reporting nearly 1,500 reports in the first four weeks of the year alone against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
Athletes are speaking out about the crimes and racist incidents they themselves have faced. NBA player Jeremy Lin said he was called "coronavirus" during a game sometime in he past year. Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koe addressed the shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors in March and said he would start speaking out more about racist incidents.
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