An attack by a bat-wielding, ISIS-yelling man has left an immigrant Colombian couple in shock, the father recovering from serious injuries, in what police say could be a hate crime.
The assault in a St. Thomas mall parking lot is the latest in a long list of slurs and ugly incidents directed against minorities that have thrust the wider London region under a harsh public spotlight in recent years.
The unprovoked attack was recorded by the family’s 13-year-old son and posted to social media in dramatic video.
“We are processing what is going on. My son was not able to sleep yesterday,” Mari Zambrano, the boy’s mother, said Friday.
Her husband, Sergio Estepa, was treated at hospital for a cracked rib and bruising and released following the Thursday attack in the parking lot of the Elgin Mall in St. Thomas.
Mark Phillips, 36, of Toronto was arrested in London and charged with three counts of assault and one count of aggravated assault.
“Nobody can figure out why he was in St. Thomas,” said St. Thomas police Sgt. Brian Carnegie, adding the attack is being investigated as a possible hate crime. “It was totally unprovoked.”
The incident does nothing to improve the London region’s public image, given a black eye in recent years from a rash of ugly, headline-grabbing racial flare-ups ranging from unprovoked attacks against Muslims, to the N-word hurled at black stage actors in a street and a fan tossing a banana onto the ice as a black NHL player took part in a shootout at the city’s hockey arena.
Hispanic people are often mistakenly identified as Middle Eastern, said George Perez, editor of La Jornado, an Hispanic newspaper in London.
“It has always been of interest to me . . . people feel a little uncomfortable when you are speaking a language they don’t understand. People might think you were talking about them or they are planning something,” he said.
The family, together with a friend, were in the parking lot switching cars when they were confronted, the father said.
Zambrano said her husband told her he was hit four times with the bat.
Neither she nor the boy was hurt.
In the video shot by the 13-year-old, a man can be seen approaching, pointing at the family and shouting “ISIS” and “terrorist.”
The video ends with shaky footage of the man swinging the bat and then backing up.
He fled in a white BMW, which was tracked to a south London store, police say.
St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson couldn’t be reached for comment.
A specialist in the study of hate crimes said normalized hate isn’t just an American phenomenon, but one evident in Canada as well.
“We have our own history of hate and intolerance here,” said Barbara Perry of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. “Specifically, Western Ontario — many of the communities down there have long been hotspots for right-wing extremism, in particular.”
Zambrano said the family immigrated to Canada 17 years ago and has lived in St. Thomas for the last nine.
In Columbia, Estepa was a professor and Zambrano was studying law. Now they work as cleaners in St. Thomas.
Perez said education about different cultures is important in creating acceptance, but there will be fallout from the attack.
“They are (a) Colombian family,” he said.
“Most (Colombian immigrants) are refugees, came here seven, ten years ago,” he said. “They were escaping from the war on drugs, prosecution . . . the security in their countries. Now they come to find they were assaulted in a parking lot. They will now feel insecure. Absolutely insecure.”
Estepa underlined that concern.
“I cannot deny that we feel hurt,” he said.