Last week I posted about Luke "Sasha" Fleischman who was set on fire while asleep on a bus ride home from school—see post HERE. It was alleged that the reason behind the attack was that the attacker, now identified as sixteen-year-old Richard Thomas, didn’t like the fact that Luke was wearing a skirt.
I spent a great deal of time wondering if that was the case; could a person’s clothing be seen as some sort of excuse for a Hate Crime? Turns out it was.
Thomas has confessed to Oakland police that his own homophobia caused him to light Luke’s clothing on fire. As a result, Richard Thomas has been charged as an adult with aggravated mayhem and assault and could go to prison for life if convicted. Felony aggravated assault carries a maximum prison sentence of life with the possibility of parole; the sentence for the assault charge is a maximum of eight years, while each of the two hate crime enhancements carry a one year sentence each.
“[Richard Thomas’] violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim. … The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community. Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim's family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime."— Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley
Police say Thomas boarded the bus near Oakland High School late last Monday afternoon and when he saw Luke asleep, and wearing a skirt, he decided to set the other person on fire.
This is a hard story to write because I wish to be respectful to Luke/Sasha, who identifies as "nonbinary" gender, meaning the Oakland teen does not identify as male or female; Luke’s friends use the pronouns "they," "them" or sometimes "it" when referring to Fleischman, so I’ll try to be respectful in the same manner.
Richard Thomas’ family was in court as he was arraigned and say the fire was set as a prank, or a joke — though no one seemed able to explain how lighting another human being on fire is funny — and the family pleased with the court to allow Thomas time to hire an attorney; that wish was granted. Family members also say Thomas is sorry for what he’s done, and then denied he’s homophobic, despite his confession to the contrary.
But let’s end this with some good news, shall we?
Supporters of Luke/Sasha Fleischman have raised $20,000 in just two days to help pay the medical bills, which will, at some point, include massive skin grafting and a lengthy recovery period. And while that’s a lovely thing to do, it’s what Luke’s classmates did last week at school that gives me hope that these types of things may not happen again, or at least as often.
Students and staff members at Maybeck High School in Berkeley where Luke attended classes donned their own skirts last Friday in solidarity with their classmate; there were actual skirts, some sarongs, and a few kilts all over the school last week as a way of condemning the attack and supporting Fleischman.
"The students wanted to rally their support for Sasha, so they came up with the idea of wearing skirts because that's what Sasha likes to do and what Sasha was wearing when Sasha was lit on fire."—Trevor Cralle, school director, who wore a floral sarong
The school posed for a group photo that would be delivered to Fleischman.
A skirt; sometimes that all it takes to ignite someone’s homophobia. A skirt; but then, other times, a skirt is a sign of hope and solidarity and pride and support.