September 18, 2001
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Australian stabbed saving Indian friend

Aseem Chhabra in New York

On September 14, Sean Fernandes and Robin Clarke were out night clubbing in the SOMA (South of the Market) district of San Francisco when they were attacked by a group of men. In the ensuing fight, Robin was stabbed with a Philips screwdriver. The men fled leaving behind their girl friends and Robin, who was bleeding profusely.

This news item may have gotten buried in the inside pages of a Bay Area newspaper had it not been for a couple of facts. Robin is a 26 year old, 6 foot tall, white Australian and he was stabbed by the assailants because they mistook Sean Fernandes, also 26, for an Arab. Sean is an Indian from Calcutta.

The two friends knew each other in Sydney where they worked as software engineers for Sabient Corporation. They are now roommates in San Francisco.

The attacks occurred at a time when South Asians and Arabs across North America are increasingly facing threats, following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On Saturday a Sikh was killed in Arizona, in what has been listed as a hate crime. The same day a Pakistani store owner was killed in Texas and the motive could possibly be a hate crime.

"We were crossing the street towards a bar, when we noticed about 10 people -- five guys, with five girls -- all white, cross behind us," Sean said, adding that they were all in their early to mid-twenties.

"Suddenly one guy jumped on the two of us, simultaneously punched us with his hands and knocked us down."

"Robin asked why he was hitting us, and he said, "Because your friend is a f****** Arab and you are a white nigger lover,' " Sean said, adding that the attack occurred at the corner of 4th and Townsend Streets. SOMA is in a warehousing district of the city and the area was quite secluded.

The assailant kept hitting Robin and Sean attempted to separate the two.

"I started yelling, 'I am not an Arab, I am not an Arab,' but he would not listen. Eventually someone kicked me in the back. I realized talking wasn't helping, so I joined in the fight."

During the fight one of the men stabbed Robin, and soon after some of them drove off in their Ford Explorer and Lincoln Navigator SUVs. For a while Robin did not realize he had been stabbed and even called the police on his cell phone. One man was left with the girls, but he ran away short while after.

"The girls were in one of the SUVs and we tried to block them. We kept screaming we had already called the police. We started to yell they couldn't go and they would have to run us over. Actually, looking back at it we were pretty stupid, but we were so angry at that point. We weren't even thinking."

The driver tried to put the car in gear and even hit the two friends. They fell to the ground but stood up again in defiance. Eventually, the driver stopped the car. It was at this point that Robin fell down and realised he was bleeding.

"I pulled off his jacket and there was a hole in his upper stomach, and there was blood pumping out," Sean said. "It was pretty gruesome. It got to my hands, my face. I called 911 and the dispatcher said I had to stop the bleeding, otherwise he would bleed to death."

With the dispatcher's instructions, Sean continued to press into Robin's stomach with his hands, until the police arrived. All the while, the girls stood outside their SUV, and did not offer any help, Sean said. The police took statements from the girls and a case had been registered. No further information was available from the police.

Robin was rushed to emergency room, where he was listed in critical condition. He was operated for three-and-a-half hours, and was finally out of danger. On Monday Sean was able to talk to his friend.

"I feel really bad, because even though I did nothing to cause this to happen, I still feel responsible," he said. "The only reason Robin got involved in it was because of me. I am incredibly angry, but Robin is more philosophical about it and said they were ignorant people. But I want them behind the bars. I think they are dangerous. If they did it to me they could do it to others."

"You would expect that in segregation era Alabama this could happen. But San Francisco is one of the most tolerant and diverse cities in the entire country. I was completely shocked that it could happen out here."

The Attack on America: The Complete Coverage

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