As the confrontation went on, the crowd became more and more violent. What started as shoving and rock throwing escalated into smashing cars and setting businesses aflame. By nightfall, I was crouching behind a Chevy Suburban to avoid bullets.
Another intern, a white man who had arrived later on to take photos, huddled beside me. After the gunfire ceased, he emerged from behind the car to take more pictures while I stayed behind.
“Get your white ass out of here!” he soon heard. “You better not let me fucking catch you!”
After trying unsuccessfully to defuse the situation, my colleague was flying down the street with a group of men chasing him. Wanting to help, but not knowing how, I decided to run after them. In order to run faster, my colleague dropped the two bulky cameras hanging around his neck.
When I tried to retrieve them, and yelled at him to get out of the area, some in the group of rioters started chasing after me too. As a former back-of-the-pack runner in middle school gym class, I wasn’t surprised when they caught me.
When they threw me to the ground, I reflexively curled up into a ball. Blows landed on my back, head and torso. “Stop! He’s not white! He’s Asian!”
I wasn’t sure who said it, or how they knew my race, but within seconds, the punches stopped. Someone grabbed me by the arm and lifted me up.
As my vision came back into focus, I saw a group of concerned black faces and heard someone repeating, “Don’t fuck with Chinese dudes.”
My attackers had run off. Those who had intervened escorted me to safety.