Vancouver police are investigating an unprovoked bear spray attack on a senior in Chinatown Friday morning that they say was preceded by racist comments.
“Every indication is that this incident was completely unprovoked and may have been fueled by anti-Asian hatred,” said Vancouver Police Department spokesman Const. Tania Visintin, in a news release Saturday.
The VPD released images of the suspect taken from surveillance cameras in the area near Pender and Columbia streets where the assault occurred.
Police said the victim, an 87-year-old Chinatown resident, was out for his morning walk when the assault occurred around 11:40 am
The victim was standing at a bus stop “when a stranger came up to him, made racist comments, then bear-sprayed him in the face,” according to the VPD release.
Police have not yet identified the suspect, and are asking the public for help in doing so.
“Given the time of day and the location of this incident, we believe there were witnesses who have not yet come forward,” Visintin said. “We also believe there will be people who recognize the suspect and can help us identify him.”
The VPD said it is also working to determine whether Friday’s attack is related to offensive graffiti that appeared on the red gates outside Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, not far from where the assault occurred.
“The graffiti – the word ‘Shhh’ in white paint – was interpreted by many in the community as a backlash to Chinatown residents who have been increasingly speaking up about crime and safety concerns in their neighborhood,” police said.
There was a 300-percent increase in reported graffiti in Chinatown between 2019 and 2021, according to the VPD, as well as a 425-percent spike in reported anti-Asian hate incidents.
Police have increased patrols in the neighborhood and say they are “working closely” with residents and businesses in the area “to address community concerns.”
“People who live and work in Chinatown deserve to feel safe, valued, and respected,” said Visintin. “Violent and unprovoked attacks, rampant graffiti, and street disorder are appalling, and these incidents continue to erode people’s sense of safety.”
Police described the suspect in Friday’s assault as a man in his 30s who is about six feet tall. He was wearing a black jacket, dark-colored pants, a gray baseball cap and gray shoes with red trim and white soles. He also carried a black backpack.
Anyone who has information about the incident or recognizes the suspect is asked to call investigators at 604-717-4034, police said.