Police charged an Asian man in Irvine, Calif., on Monday for the attempted sexual assault on an Asian woman. The suspect targeted the woman “because he thought she was white” in an effort to retaliate against a recent perceived rise in anti-Asian “hate crimes,” according to authorities.
Thirty-seven-year-old Michael Sangbong Rhee is accused of aiming a firearm at the female victim at 1:30 p.m. last Thursday while she was in the driver’s seat of her vehicle with the door open. The incident was in the vicinity of the victim’s apartment in the Harvard-Coronado area of Irvine, a press release said.
Rhee allegedly ordered the victim to move to the car’s back seat if she wanted to survive the ordeal. The woman tried to give Rhee money and her wallet to get him to leave, but Rhee was said to have responded by telling her they would “do that later,” according to police.
Rhee was said to have then climbed in through the rear passenger door and “committed a sexual battery against” the woman before she screamed for help, shouting that Rhee was armed. A nearby maintenance worker came to her rescue.
Rhee was said to have quickly ran from the scene and sped off in his car. Local police tracked down his license plate number from surveillance footage that recorded Rhee’s vehicle making a getaway from the apartment complex, according to reports.
“Based on the totality of the investigation and statements made by Rhee, detectives believe he targeted the victim because he thought she was white,” a press release from the Irvine Police Department stated. “Detectives also believe the assault was in retaliation to hate crimes committed against the Asian community.”
Detectives say that Rhee, who is of Korean descent, attacked the woman because he thought she was white, based on statements he made to the police, and that he chose his victim in retaliation for hate crimes that have been reported to have been on the rise against the Asian community.
IPD detectives say that they will be adding charges of hate crimes to allegations made against the suspect, who is already being held on a $1-million bond on charges of kidnapping with intent to commit sexual assault. Police said they found a BB gun that could be related to the handgun the victim identified in Rhee’s residence.
One Twitter commenter remarked:
“I hope you don’t tolerate crimes against ANYONE REGARDLESS of the criminal’s MOTIVATION. Time to bring the criminal justice system back to basics and eliminate all these enhancements and flourishes which only delay justice and feed the monster.”
Another Twitter user commented, “Media has to stop provoking each race to hate against one another.”
The local police “and the City of Irvine do not tolerate violent crimes against women or hate-related crimes in our community,” the release reads.
Crimes targeting Asian Americans have spiked by almost 150% in 2020 in 16 of the largest cities in the U.S., while overall race-related crimes have seen a decrease by 7%, as reported by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston are attributed to having the largest number of race-related criminal occurrences against Asian Americans, the study reported.
Ironically for Rhee, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is set to file hate crime charges against the man who supposedly wanted payback for Asian hate crimes because the attack was on an Asian woman.