Denny's incident recalled during workshop
By: Lori Parasink
Issue date: 4/8/02 Section: News
Three people left with concussions. Others left with visible bruises, cuts, scars and painful images of a 1997 night — all as a result of racism.
As speaker Amnat Chittaphong recalled and described the events of that April 11, 1997 night at a Denny’s Restaurant at 2863 Erie Blvd. E., tears came to his eyes.
“To this day I find it difficult to see the pain in my friends’ faces and that nobody would believe them,” said Chittaphong, a graduate student at Syracuse University.
Asian Students in America, the group Chittaphong was previously president of, presented a workshop, “The Denny’s Incident and Other Hate Crimes,” on Friday evening in the Hall of Languages, to discuss and raise awareness of discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans. A diverse group of 25 people attended the meeting.
On that night in 1997, six Asian American students and one white student went to Denny’s sometime after 2 a.m., according to a court investigation report, and were denied access to service by Denny’s and later harassed and beaten by a group of white patrons, the report stated.
"From the very beginning this case reeked of politics," Chittaphong said.
During the workshop, Chittaphong showed various television clips from the media coverage of the case. Specifically, one clip showed Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick saying that the students were drunk and rude. He also said that the students "orchestrated" the event for their own benefit. In the clip, he added that the students did not possess enough injuries to prove what had happened to them was a hate crime.
In addition to the lack of support that the students received, they have also not received legal satisfaction. However, they do not plan on giving up.
"It's really important that we keep fighting not just this case, but all cases of discrimination," Chittaphong said.
The next step is to submit their case to the Supreme Court of the United States. The chances that their case will be heard, however, are very small.
"Right now we're at a weird moment," Chittaphong said, "It's been one appeal after another, all we want is to be tried in front of a jury."
The Denny's where the incident occurred closed last summer.
Chittaphong said that discrimination against Asian Americans exists in many other places, and has been going on for much of history. He also said that few people are familiar with Asian Americans’ struggle against racism because not much of their history is taught in American schools.
"Why is our history so insignificant in this society?" Chittaphong said.
Many students who were at the workshop, along with Chittaphong, expressed their anger with an editorial that was printed in The Daily Orange on Friday. The editorial criticized ASIA's approach of how they chose to make their voice heard. The editorial said that raising awareness is simply not enough, and that the group needed to be more proactive.
Suzie Lee, a senior inclusive elementary education major, said she was very disheartened with what The D.O. printed. She said that it was not right of The D.O. to criticize a workshop that did not even take place yet.
"How can you be proactive without education first?" Lee said.
Before Lee entered SU as a freshman, she said she experienced discrimination while dining in the Schine Center on a visit to check out the school. Lee said that she unintentionally cut another girl off while getting in line and the girl turned around and said, "Watch where you are going, chink." Lee was completely shocked.
"But despite that, I decided to come (here) because I thought this school had a lot to offer me," Lee said.
Lee ended the workshop by inviting everyone to come and support ASIA at 2:20 p.m. on Thursday on the Quad as they form a human chain in memory of the five-year anniversary of the Denny's incident.
"Everyone has a story to share,” Lee said. “We feel it's necessary to share our story.”
She also passed out flyers to the audience that listed two more workshops to be held Friday and April 19th, both in room 211 in the Hall of Languages. Topics of these workshops include "Generation Gaps: Differences Between Us and our Parents," and "Intra-racism: Racism Within the Asian Culture."
"We just want to show that we don't tolerate any form of discrimination," Lee said.