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The Roque Family’s Fight for Justice and Accountability in the Face of Anti-Asian Hate

(Right to left) Patricia Roque, Nerissa Roque, and supporters of the "Justice for the Roques" campaign stand outside Van Nuys Courthouse West on March 6, 2023. Photo: John Haas/SIKLAB Media

When the Roque family arrived at Van Nuys Courthouse West on March 6, a community stood with them, demanding justice for an attack that father Gabriel, mother Nerissa, and daughter Patricia had endured ten months earlier at a fast food parking lot in North Hollywood, California.

The gathering, which drew over 100 community members and representatives from organizations across Southern California, marked the tenth time the Roques and their supporters have appeared in court to hold suspect Nicholas Weber accountable for what the Filipino American family describes as an anti-Asian hate crime. Since the incident, the Roques have had no opportunity to testify in court. The grand showing of support by the community counteracts the Roques’ intense frustrations over the slow pace of justice.

“I’m about to give up already, but when I see you, the community, and everything — I got my strength from you,” Nerissa told the crowd outside the courthouse.

With banners of solidarity and fists in the air, campaign supporters applauded Judge Neetu S. Badhan-Smith’s long-awaited decision to set a preliminary hearing date for the case. The outcome was a significant turning point for the Roque family, who will finally be able to testify their account of the incident on April 4.

“Today was a breakthrough for us. After waiting months and months and coming to court day after day, we finally have a good day,” said Sandy Roxas, the Roque family attorney.

The day comes nearly one year after the incident occurred. On May 13, 2022, Nerissa and Patricia were waiting in line at a McDonald’s drive-through on Victory Boulevard when a Jeep rear-ended them. The driver, a white male later identified as Weber, approached their vehicle, shouting threats and racial slurs.

“Kill you. Oh yeah, I want to kill you,” Weber said.

The encounter soon turned violent.

While waiting for the police, Nerissa and Patricia called Gabriel, who arrived at the restaurant shortly after. In a series of videos captured by Patricia, Weber is seen shoving Gabriel to the ground before grabbing Nerissa by the neck. A bystander subdued the assailant and remained with the Roques until law enforcement arrived an hour later, the family said. Gabriel was taken to the hospital for medical treatment and sustained multiple injuries, including a broken rib.

Weber has remained in custody since June 2022. He faces two felony battery counts with hate crime enhancements.

Photo: John Haas/SIKLAB Media

Accountability Shrugged, Justice Deferred

The assault galvanized the Filipino community in Los Angeles County. With support from the Filipino Migrant Center, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), Migrante Los Angeles, and mass organizations of Filipino youth and students across the United States, including Anakbayan and Kabataan Alliance, the community launched the “Justice for the Roques” campaign (J4R).

“At the root of it, the biggest challenge was initiating this pursuit of justice, knowing how to navigate the criminal justice system, and where to seek out help,” said Jhenine Cordero of Anakbayan Los Angeles.

Going through the intricacies of the criminal court process is expensive and time-consuming. Each court date the Roques attended resulted in lost wages from time taken off work. The inaccessibility of the justice system to working-class migrants added challenges that exacerbated the heavy emotional toll already weighing on the family.

“I learned with the court system that there was no consideration for our time or mental and physical capacity to attend these court dates,” eldest son Patrick Roque said. “If it weren’t for the backing and help from the community, we wouldn’t have been able to keep persevering and pushing the case forward.”

The Roques’ troubles with delays extend beyond the criminal legal system.

“Sustaining ourselves has been even more difficult. That’s a reality for immigrant families and victims who unfortunately have to endure the struggles even after the incident,” Patricia said.

Despite their efforts, the Roques say they have experienced significant delays in securing aid from two critical sources of institutional support: the Bureau of Victim Services and the Philippine Consulate General.

The Bureau of Victim Services is a division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office that provides free program services — crisis intervention, counseling referrals, and restitution assistance — to victims and witnesses of crimes, regardless of residency or citizenship status. The Roques frequently expressed dissatisfaction regarding the bureau’s handling of their case.

According to Bureau of Victim Services Director Tanisha Wright, survivors are assigned a Victims Services Advocate who helps with court support, connects individuals to mental health and therapy resources, and guides victims as they file claims to the California Victims Compensation Board (CalVCB).

Wright acknowledged the Roque family’s discontent and attributed the issue to miscommunication that resulted in a change of their assigned Victims Services Advocate, who assisted the Roques on February 14 in submitting a compensation form to CalVCB.

“Not every advocate can be a good fit for a family,” Wright said.

The Roque family call on Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón to hold suspect Nicholas Weber accountable on June 17, 2022. Photo: John Haas/SIKLAB Media

The Roques’ difficulties with the Bureau of Victim Services are compounded by a lack of support from the Philippine Consulate General.

On August 31, 2022, the Roque family met with representatives from the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles to discuss their eligibility for the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) program, which attends to cases involving Filipino nationals in distress. Transcripts of the meeting indicate that the Philippine Consulate does not have funds readily available and cannot provide direct legal aid or appear in court on behalf of foreign nationals. Individuals seeking consideration for assistance must submit a petition for support to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila.

The lack of movement with CalVCB and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila has done little to assuage the Roques’ lingering anxieties as they organize with their community for justice.

“Government institutions both here in the U.S. and the Philippines have a responsibility to take care of their constituents and must ensure people are provided with resources to help them live happy and fulfilling lives,” Cordero said. “It’s jarring to think about how there are so many issues on the local level alone with housing, healthcare, and education becoming increasingly unaffordable. People need help now more than ever.”

In the absence of adequate institutional support, Cordero emphasizes the critical power of collective grassroots organizing to meaningfully address the shortcomings of the criminal legal system.

“I want community members to feel emboldened to demand their human rights, justice, and the resources and social services they deserve because they’re human beings and contribute to the overall functioning of our society,” Cordero said.

Photo: John Haas/SIKLAB Media

The Interconnected Reality of Forced Migration and Anti-Asian Hate

Racialized violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community members, though not new in the United States, has continued to rise since the onset of the pandemic. Between 2020 and 2022, the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center received nearly 11,500 reported incidents of anti-AAPI hate, violence, harassment, and other forms of discrimination. According to the report, the number is just the tip of the iceberg.

Language barriers, immigration status, and hesitancy to report to police combined with a lack of resources, funding, and data collection requirements amongst law enforcement agencies have led to significant underreporting of anti-Asian bias incidents and hate crimes.

“The issues we started to see so much more clearly since starting the Justice for the Roques campaign were the root issues of forced migration. Filipinos, and many other migrants, have to leave their home countries to seek a supposed better life, only to face more oppression and exploitation. It just looks a little different from what it did in the Philippines,” Cordero said.

An estimated nine million Filipinos, or 10 percent of the Philippine population, work overseas. In 2019, these Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) sent US$33.5 billion in remittances back home to support their families and bolster the Philippine economy. This relationship between the Philippine state and its diasporic workers has long-historical precedents rooted in inherited patterns of colonial exploitation and neoliberal globalization.

The United States has relied on Filipino labor since the beginning of the twentieth century. Philippine independence in 1946 did little to sever these ties. In 1973, the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. formalized a balikbayan policy that lionized OFWs, portraying them as reliable, resilient workers. The representations obscured the reality of migrants’ experiences and overlooked the inadequate support from Philippine government agencies. Filipino migrant workers, especially women, are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the workplace and endure acute feelings of loneliness due to family separation that have only heightened with growing anti-Asian bias incidents and hate crimes.

The deep work of Filipino community organizations like Migrante USA fills this need by OFWs to be seen, heard, and empowered to self-advocate.

Patrick Roque (right) marches to stop anti-Asian hate on July 16, 2022 in Rowland Heights, California. Organized by San Choi and Naomi Hom, the action was held in response to an attack on an elderly couple. Photo: John Haas/SIKLAB Media

Patrick felt a deep commitment to promoting the rights, welfare, and dignity of overseas Filipinos vulnerable to wage theft, human trafficking, and abuse in the workplace. In 2018, he joined the Los Angeles chapter of Migrante USA, an alliance of Filipino workers and migrant organizations dedicated to fighting for migrants’ rights and social change in the Philippines and the United States.

“During my time in Migrante, I’ve learned that it’s through collective action and People Power that change is possible because we as a people, the masses, are capable of making change as evident from history itself,” Patrick said. “There’s no better feeling than being around the people you love and the people you’re going to meet in the future through organizing.”

Migrante USA is not alone. It works alongside NAFCON to address and alleviate the structural pressures fueling anti-Asian hate.

As a national alliance of service institutions, businesses, and grassroots organizations, NAFCON plays a critical role in advocating for community members directly impacted by police brutality and anti-Asian violence. In addition to the Roque family’s case, NAFCON actively organizes justice campaigns in support of Angelo Quinto and his family in Antioch, California, the Makibeki NYC3 in New York, and Nicanor and Julienne Arriola in Sacramento, California.

“With these campaigns, we’re exploring what and who this justice system really stands for and who it is protecting,” said Karen Roxas, campaigns manager at Filipino Migrant Center and newly elected NAFCON Vice President. “What does it mean for us, Filipino families and community members, to seek justice and accountability in a system that inherently deters immigrants, marginalized sections of society, and everyday working people from attaining justice?”

For the Roque family and others similarly affected by the intensifying intersections of abusive migrant labor brokerage, racialized violence, and institutional impediments in the United States and the Philippines, the answer requires envisioning alternative approaches to justice and accountability.

“Policing isn’t the type of protection we want,” Roxas said. “The solution to anti-Asian hate is not an increase in law enforcement. Many community members don’t feel safe with law enforcement, especially as we’ve seen incidents of police brutality on persons of color coming to light in the more recent years and the criminalization of migrants.”

In Roxas' view, healing cannot be realized exclusively within existing structures of accountability. Rather, it must also rely on communities committed to amplifying the voices and strengthening the resolve of its most vulnerable members.

“For many immigrants, there is already a lot of pain in migration. But there’s also resilience – not in a romanticized sense but as a means of survival. We’re fighting for a world where immigrants and migrant workers don’t have to be afraid to speak up against injustice,” Roxas said.

Photo: John Haas/SIKLAB Media

Youth Activism and the Long Road to Justice

The Roques understand that their struggle extends beyond their individual experience. They hope this case sets a precedent for others to demand justice, report bias incidents and anti-Asian hate crimes, and find comfort in their community’s commitment to mutual aid.

“Justice doesn’t stop at my family winning the case. Justice doesn’t stop with my family getting compensation for what happened or however that may look like. You also have to take into account victims of anti-Asian hate. People have gone through the same experiences as us and, unfortunately, have not gotten the justice they deserve,” Patricia said.

This acknowledgment of shared struggles motivated Patricia to take action and develop her skills as a community organizer. Amidst her involvement in the J4R campaign, Patricia co-founded Pilipino Youth Kollective (PYK), a student and youth collective that focuses on issues specifically in the San Fernando Valley.

The J4R campaign is laying bare the massive shortcomings in the U.S. criminal legal system. It also creates opportunities for communities to pose solutions that do not perpetuate patterns of racialized and gendered violence. In these spaces, youth collectives like PYK are rejuvenating reservoirs of hope and optimism, sustaining organizers on the long road to justice.

“This is a collective effort and struggle,” Patricia said. “As youth, it’s in our hands to shape the way we live, the way we live tomorrow, and how our society functions in the future.”

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