“Justice” sweatshirts and other items were sold in support of the Roque family at the Monday rally.

The Roque family has waited more than nine months for their day in court since father Gabriel, mother Nerissa and daughter Patricia were viciously assaulted at a McDonald’s restaurant in North Hollywood in what was described as an Asian hate crime.

That day is finally coming.

On Monday, March 6, Judge Neetu S. Badhan-Smith set a preliminary hearing date of April 4 for the case against suspect Nicholas Weber at the Van Nuys Courthouse West.

Weber, a white male, was initially charged with felony battery causing serious bodily injury and misdemeanor battery. Both counts carried hate crime enhancements. He entered pleas of not guilty last July.

The Roque family is Filipino.

More than 100 friends and representatives from the Valley area and Los Angeles County regional immigrant organizations endured the early morning chill to gather in a show of support at the Van Nuys Government Center. After the rally, many followed the Roque family into the courtroom, hoping not to be disappointed again by another postponement.

Instead, the Roque family and community supporters heard the words they’d been waiting to hear.

“Today was a breakthrough for us,” said Sandy Roxas, the Roque family attorney. “After waiting months and months and coming to court day after day, we finally have a good day.

“So the next hearing will be the preliminary hearing. This is when the victims, Nerissa, Patricia and Gabriel, will have the ability to finally tell their story, to tell the story to the court and to hold the defendant accountable.”

Roxas pointed out that the judge, following the preliminary hearing, could still rule there was not enough evidence against the suspect and dismiss the case. 

Patricia joyfully thanked supporters outside the courthouse.

“Without you guys, we wouldn’t have been able to have a set date for the preliminary hearing,” she said. “I mean, that’s just one instance of all the media outcry and our demands in order for the charges to be increased from a misdemeanor to a felony. We wouldn’t have been able to support my family.”

The Roque’s oldest son, Patrick, who was not involved in the incident, said trying to get a preliminary hearing date has been “extremely hard” on the family.

“My family is a working-class family,” Patrick said. “My mom, a caregiver, works 14 hours, six days a week. My dad is an administrative assistant for a fleet repair company. And he works eight hours a day for seven days, the whole week. [Repeatedly] going to court is difficult as well as hard on our wallets, because you may be having to wait outside the courthouse for hours. And [his parents] don’t get paid when they don’t work.”

The incident occurred on May 13, 2022. Nerissa and Patricia were in their car, waiting in the restaurant’s drive-through lane when their vehicle was rear-ended by another vehicle. They said the driver of the other vehicle approached them shouting anti-Asian slurs and threatening them directly by saying, “I’ll kill you!”

The women called the police and also called Gabriel. He arrived at the restaurant before the police did. The Roque family said the man physically attacked both Gabriel and Nerissa, striking the father several times and wrapping his hands around Nerissa’s neck. A bystander helped subdue the assailant and stayed with the family until police arrived and made an arrest.

Gabriel was taken to the hospital for treatment. He sustained multiple injuries, including a broken rib.

The assault both roiled and rallied Filipino and other Asian communities in the Valley and elsewhere in the county. Various immigrant organizations, including the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), the Filipino Migrant Center, the Thai Community Development Center (TCDC) and others, have offered their support for the Roque family as well as trying to keep the public engaged and informed through social media.

Jason Bautista, a TCDC operations manager, said the rise of Asian hate crimes both locally and nationally since 2019 has terrorized Asian communities.

“This is definitely a significant issue that not only affects Filipinos but all Asians,” Bautista said. “We’re trying to show this was a clear act of Asian hate.

“This case is focused on demanding justice for the Roque family, and the rights of the survivors in these incidents. The whole system of, like, going into court, it’s been taking so long. But [the public] is here today to support the family. That community support is consistent and even still growing. After all this time. It’s really been important in showing that the community won’t stand for these incidents.”

Justin Edualino, affiliated with TCDC and the Filipino youth and student organization Anakbayan LA, added, “[The family] appreciates the community is always showing up and being there, hearing them out, hearing us amplifying their demands and their calls for justice … even today we’re showing the court, the judge, that the community has their back and that we’re all calling for justice for them.”

It’s the kind of support that, Patrick said, has kept him and the Roque family optimistic.

“This court case is not [just] for us. This is also for other victims of Asian hate, for other hate crimes as well,” he said. “A lot of these [hate crimes] are being unreported. We don’t know how many instances of this happen every day. So we also want to help others as well. I think that’s what true justice looks like to us.”

If you feel you have been the victim of a hate crime or know someone who has, you can call the Los Angeles City Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department office at (213) 978-1845 or email them at civilandhumanrights@lacity.org; submitting a hate incident report online to 211 LA at 211la.org; or file an anonymous report with LA Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.

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