Olympian Sakura Kokumai said she was verbally harassed and called racial slurs in early April. Now, weeks later, authorities say they arrested her harasser after he attacked a senior couple on Sunday.
According to authorities, Michael Vivona, 25, punched a 79-year-old man and his 80-year-old wife, knocking them to the ground while they were walking in a park in Orange, California, about 40 miles from Los Angeles. Both are Korean American, said Orange City Police Sergeant Phillip McMullin.
Though he didn’t make any statements during the attack, Vivona “made statements that proved that the assault was racially motivated” in interviews with the police, McMullin told USA TODAY.
“He had a hate towards Asians and made that clear,” he added.
Both seniors suffered minor injuries and were released at the scene.
Kokumai, who is Japanese American, was training in the same park April 1 when Vivona began to yell at her.
“You’re a loser. Go home, you stupid b—-,” he said, according to videos Kokumai posted on Instagram. “I’ll f— you up.”
“What happened to me was nothing compared to what we see on social media right now — people getting hit, people get slashed, people getting killed,” Kokumai told USA TODAY in early April.
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Vivera is believed to be homeless and living out of his car, McMullin said. He was booked on two counts of elder abuse and one count of criminal threats in reference to the incident in early April.
When the assault occurred Sunday, “community members surrounded the suspect,” keeping him in the park until police arrived, McMullin said.
Orange County saw a tenfold increase in hate incident reports in 2020, according to Orange County Human Relations, a nonprofit that works closely with the county to track and respond to hate crimes and racism, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Last month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors passed two anti-hate crime resolutions following a hike in such crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Orange County Human Relations Commission said such crimes have increased 10-fold over the past year.
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Hate crimes and attacks on Asians and Asian-Americans have “significantly increased” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Former President Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric — he blamed China for the virus, and used slurs to describe the pandemic — contributed to the rise in anti-Asian racism, according to an ADL study published last month.
Contributing: Nancy Armour, USA TODAY; Associated Press