by Shawn Chitnis

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Demonstrators rallied on the steps of the San Francisco Hall of Justice Thursday in support of an 84-year-old man who survived a brutal attack at a bus stop in 2020 as he prepared to testify at a court hearing for the defendant in the case.

“We want the community to know that when something happens there are people behind him and we’re not letting any cases go under the rug and we’re not going to be silent anymore,” said Leanna Louie, one of the main organizers of the event.

Rong Xin Liao, speaking through interpreters before entering the courtroom, said he was grateful for the community support. He acknowledged that people like him often do not have a voice but the activists fighting Asian hate helped him to be heard.

“Our society really has on its cornerstone the belief that our systems work,” said Nancy Tung, a public safety advocate with SF Cause.

Liao was waiting for the bus while using a wheelchair in Feb. 2020 when Eric Ramos-Hernandez jump-kicked him. The attack left Liao seriously injured. He said in court he still has not recovered from his injuries more than a year later.

“You out to be outraged when a man walks up to another elderly man and kicks him out of his wheelchair to the ground,” said Justin Butler with the SF NACCP.

The rally brought together members of various organizations fighting anti-Asian hate and reinforced solidarity among different communities of color. Several speakers took to the steps before the court proceedings began inside.

“Now let’s not forget those victims and make sure they get justice,” said Justin Zhu, a member of Stand with Asian Americans.

Speakers said that they wanted to send a message that these crimes will not be tolerated. Some also criticized the San Francisco district attorney’s office specifically for not pursuing the wishes of Liao in this case. Liao wants the defendant to be punished for his actions.

“They did what was good for them not right for Mr. Liao,” said Hudson Liao, a member of Asians Are Strong.

The D.A.’s office said in a statement to KPIX that it filed serious felony charges against Ramos-Hernandez and he spent seven months in custody but he also received mental health diversion at the request of his defense attorney and the judge granted it.

“We were not aware of a potential misunderstanding until months later, when Mr. Liao’s grandson spoke to the press,” the statement said. “Since then, attorneys in our office and members of our victim services division have repeatedly offered to meet with Mr. Liao but were told that communication with Mr. Liao would need to go through his own retained attorney.”

The statement went on to explain that the office had a Cantonese-speaking victim advocate assigned to the case to reach Liao and make sure his voice was heard.

Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom Thursday when Liao addressed the judge.

“I love the United States. I feel very safe here,” Liao said through an interpreter. “When I got attacked, I became very afraid.”

Liao said he remains scared and only goes out once a day. He said that the defendant must receive a severe punishment for his actions. Liao says he was targeted since there were others standing at the bus stop at the time of the attack.

“The first thing I want you to know is how sorry I am that this happened to you,” the judge said.

The judge also said that his wife is ethnically Chinese and a refugee from Vietnam. Their children are half-Chinese and he worries about anti-Asian hate as a husband and father. But the judge explained that Ramos-Hernandez is not charged with a hate crime but assault on the elderly.

The judge also pointed out that the misdemeanor which brought the defendant back to court because he violated the terms of the diversion program was not violent in behavior. Those are the factors the judge will consider as he requests a mental health review. The court reconvenes Dec. 7.

“In admitting Mr. Ramos-Hernandez to mental health diversion the court recognized his serious mental health issues and his need for treatment,” said Silvia Cediel, the public defender for Ramos-Hernandez. “Jail is not a treatment center. It does not help people with mental health issues and it often exacerbates those issues.”

Liao also said through interpreters outside the courthouse that he hopes his speaking out can prevent another person like him from being attacked in the future.