Roque family surrounded by community members calling for Justice for the Roques and Stop Asian Hate on July 11, 2022. Center: Ysabel Roque, Patricia Roque, Nerissa Roque

This article is the beginning of a 12-part- series on language and its relationship to stereotypes and its impact on interethnic communities. This series examines the continued use of negative, inaccurate terms which have promoted hate and racism and the ripple effect – passed down from generation to generation – perpetuating verbal abuse and violence. 

Members of the Roque family, along with Filipino immigrant-support groups, gathered Monday, July 11, outside the Van Nuys courthouse at 7:00 in the morning – they wanted to walk together en masse into the courtroom to watch Nicholas Weber’s arraignment. 

They wanted the judge to see that many eyes from the community were watching this case – which they said must be taken very seriously, not viewed as a fender bender or parking lot road rage, but for what they say it is – yet another incident of hate speech that escalated into a full-blown violent hate crime directed at an Asian family. 

The group wanted the suspect to see them too. But they said Weber was off to the side, “hiding in the corner,” and never came into the center of the courtroom where he could be fully seen. His demeanor they described was far different from the emboldened bully who went after the Roque family. 

Roque Family at a community meeting at Precious Blood Church (Los Angeles). Roques at the center: Gabriel, Ysabel, Patricia, Patrick, Nerissa

Weber, 31, a Sylmar resident, is accused of verbally and physically assaulting the Roques, a Filipino family living in North Hollywood. 

He’s charged with one felony count of battery with serious bodily injury and a misdemeanor count of battery, along with a hate-crime allegation. Last Monday, he pleaded not guilty to two battery charges. 

Patricia Roque, 19, a college student, recounted that night waiting in a car with her mother, Nerissa, 47, in the North Hollywood McDonald’s drive-thru line when Nicholas Weber bumped them from behind with his car.

She said what happened next wasn’t the usual exchange of insurance information. Weber, she alleged, pulled up next to them and began hurling racial slurs at them. 

“He said ‘you’re so Asian … Ching Chong’ and he said it with an [stereotypical] Asian accent that was clearly to mock us. He was basically taunting us and threatened us – he said ‘I’ll kill you,’ all with a mocking Asian accent.” 

Roque said while her mother called 911, she called her father, who arrived before the police. When Roque’s father showed up, the family claims Weber became even more aggressive. He tried to open her car door which she quickly locked, but he kept trying to pull on the door. 

“My father told him to ‘stay away from my daughter,’” and that’s when Weber, she described, became violent, striking her 62-year-old father, Gabriel, several times and when her mother ran to help him, Weber put his hands around her mother’s neck. 

“My father was trying to protect me, but he [Weber] was the one that kept coming at us.”

“He pushed my dad onto the concrete ground,” Roque said. “He had a broken rib on his left side. My mom, suffered physical injuries as well when she was strangled. She was also hit in the chest.”

Roque wonders why when police arrived, the 6-foot tall Weber, who towered over them in size and strength and was the aggressor, only received a citation and wasn’t detained. Instead, both her father and Weber were transported to the hospital. 

She said her parents are still experiencing physical and emotional trauma and they are all receiving counseling. 

“My mom, because she was choked, had a lot of difficulty breathing and is still having difficulty. My mom already had high blood pressure and every time she thinks about this it causes a lot of emotional stress and it is obvious to me that my father is in a very vulnerable state. It’s heartbreaking.” 

Racial Slurs Escalate Into Violence 

Hate crimes are defined at the federal level as a crime motivated by bias against a race, color, religion, national origin sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

Acts of prejudice that are not crimes and don’t involve violence, threats or property damage are considered bias or a “hate incident.”

Racial slurs and hate speech don’t always rise to the level of a crime, and most often are unreported. However, as the Roque family found, hate speech can incite violence. The LA County Human Relations Commission in a 2020 report explained that hate speech is a criminal offense when the perpetrator has threatened with spoken or written words.

While using racial slurs is all too commonplace and shared in casual conversation, continuing to use this language has fractured our society and has encouraged discrimination, intolerance and a lack of compassion for others.

The Human Relations report confirmed that most often people “just take it and learn to live with hate incidents.”  They may believe that the incident was not important enough to be reported to the police or there was nothing the police could do to help.  There is also a common view that  police would not want to be bothered or get involved  unless the incident rose to the level of extreme physical abuse, the incident wouldn’t be considered “important enough.”  Fear also has a hand with victims concerned that more trouble would come to them if they reported hate incidents.

Oftentimes those on the receiving end just try to remove themselves from the situation because they do feel attacked and in danger and feel that hate speech can be a precursor to physical violence.

Justice for the Roques and Stop Asian Hate Rally on July 11, 2022

“Racial slurs are rooted in a larger history to benefit a few people that preferred to keep communities divided from each other and used racism as subjugation and forced labor to justify abuse,” said Katie Joaquin, Board Chair of the Filipino Migrant Center. The Center has been at the forefront of organizing the community. “We are calling for multicultural support. The danger of hate language is that it conveys one is inferior compared to another and makes communities enemies. It doesn’t serve anyone.”

“We were assaulted, hated on and it was unprovoked,” said Roque. She said her family over the years has experienced “microaggressions and backhanded compliments,” but now with the pandemic in its third year, even before this assault, she’s felt an increase in hate against the Asian community.

“I was told that I shouldn’t go to Asian restaurants because you’d get COVID-19 and I thought what does that mean? I’m Asian, does that mean that I shouldn’t be approached?

“My mother, who is a caregiver for the elderly, was told by a patient that she didn’t want any caregivers who weren’t white.”

Filipinos ranked third among the victims of hate crimes directed against Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, according to a report released by Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that gathers data on racially motivated attacks related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Roque family could not have imagined that a stop at a North Hollywood McDonald’s last May would place them now at the center of a “fight for justice to stop Asian hate crimes.”

Roque points out that given the current political climate and Asian people openly scapegoated during the pandemic, Weber may have viewed her family as fair game for verbal and physical abuse.

“I don’t think that any of this would have happened if we looked threatening. The problem is we don’t. We were just going on about our night. The fact that we are Asian and Asian hate crimes are way more rampant, especially during these past few years, it definitely makes us an easy target,” she said.

“I was taught from a young age to never discriminate against anyone, you know, based on what they look like or how they talk, how they walk because you never really know what people are experiencing.

Roque Community Meeting

“This is a very difficult battle to face,” said Roque, who expressed gratitude to the organizations and community members who’ve offered support. “It’s easy to put the blame on people who are very, very vulnerable. I think it’s unfortunate. But it also shows how much we have let this problem rise to terrifying degrees.”

“This was the most traumatic experience of our lives. I feared that the suspect would kill us because of what we looked like — because we are Asian,” said Roque. 

She said she and her family are very grateful to the community who has supported them and while it’s difficult for them, they are motivated by those standing by them.

“It’s definitely important to educate people on matters like this because hopefully, it will bring a greater sense of realization and awareness.”

While Weber wasn’t first taken into custody, he is now behind bars. He’s due back in court on Aug. 19, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the case to proceed to trial.

The Roque family and their supporters said they plan to be at every court proceeding.

Funding provided by the State of California