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Asian Grandmother Who Smacked Her Attacker With A Board Donates Nearly $1 Million

Xiao Zhen Xie, 75, is recovering after she was punched by a man in San Francisco. Her family says that despite being hurt, she fought back to defend herself.
Dennis O'Donnell/Screenshot by NPR
Xiao Zhen Xie, 75, is recovering after she was punched by a man in San Francisco. Her family says that despite being hurt, she fought back to defend herself.

Xiao Zhen Xie, the 75-year-old woman who was punched by a white man in San Francisco — and then fought back by smacking him with a board — will not keep the nearly $1 million that has been donated for her medical expenses. Her grandson says Xie insists on donating the money to help defuse racism against the Asian American community.

"She insists on making this decision saying this issue is bigger than Her," John Chen wrote in an update on the fundraising site GoFundMe.

Xie was attacked on San Francisco's Market Street last Wednesday, the morning after six women of Asian descent were killed in a shooting rampage in the Atlanta area — the worst incident in a broader spike in incidents that have targeted the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Xie, who is originally from China, had been waiting to cross the street when she was suddenly hit in the face. San Francisco Police say the suspect, Steven Jenkins, punched Xie minutes after he assaulted an 83-year-old Asian man. The suspect was being chased by a security guard when he hit Xie.

In the moment, her instinct was to fight back, her family told TV station KPIX. They said that Xie, while badly hurt, responded by grabbing a wooden board and hitting the man.

Jenkins, 39, was left with a bloody mouth and is facing charges of assault and elder abuse.

The security guard was able to restrain Jenkins until police arrived. Xie's response to the attack was captured on video, as local sports journalist Dennis O'Donnell from KPIX happened upon the scene and began recording.

The footage shows Xie holding an ice pack to her face, clearly upset by the shocking violence against her. At one point, she snatches a wooden board out of her shopping trolley and gestures at Jenkins, who is handcuffed to a stretcher.

Xie was left with "two serious black eyes and one that is bleeding unstoppably," Chen said when he set up the fundraising page, which sought around $50,000 to help his grandmother cover her medical expenses. She is a cancer survivor who also has diabetes, he said.

In Tuesday's update, Chen said that Xie's condition has improved and that she is recovering both physically and mentally.

"She is now starting to feel optimistic again and is in better spirits," he said.

Chen added that he hopes donors to the fundraising campaign understand the family's decision to donate the money. His grandmother has repeatedly made her wishes known, he said, and she insists that people must not submit to racism.

Last week, the group Stop AAPI Hate said it has received nearly 3,800 reports of what it describes as hate incidents — including verbal harassment and physical assault — since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago.

As tens of thousands of people donated to help Xie, her daughter, Dong-Mei Li, told KPIX's Betty Yu that her parents are traditional and hardworking and had initially resisted the idea of making a fuss or asking anyone else for help.

The man who was attacked moments before Xie is Ngoc Pham. He is a Vietnamese immigrant who suffered injuries to his head and neck, according to a separate fundraising page that has collected nearly $300,000 in donations.

Pham was discharged from the hospital several days after the attack. In an update on the fundraising page, he thanked people for their support. He added, "I survived concentration camp for 17-years in Vietnam right after the war, and I am going to get through this attack."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.