Amine Aouam woke up in Jefferson Hospital at 3 a.m. and couldn’t remember his name, where he was or how he had gotten there.
He was attacked just before 1 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 17 as he was walking along Sansom Street near Broad, Philadelphia Police said.
Three days later, Aouam, a senior finance student at Temple, contacted Philadelphia Metro and told them his story, emphasizing his belief that he was the victim of a hate crime.
“I know the area, people know me and I’m open to everybody,” Aouam said. “I was walking with my friends to Wawa, and we are all from Morocco, so we were speaking our language. We were walking towards a group of people and one woman heard us speaking a different language and she looked curious, so I said, ‘Good evening,’ [in Arabic]. Then a man, maybe five feet away, started yelling at us and I told him to chill out, cool down. He hit me in the neck and back of the head, and I passed out.”
Philadelphia Police spokeswoman Christine O’Brien said in an email police could not find any video footage of the incident, but are still investigating what happened. Aouam added the attack had “nothing to do with” the group of people he and his friends had spoken to earlier.
“Based on interviews with the complainant and the witness, due to their statements or lack of hateful language, this was not a crime based on ethnicity,” O’Brien said.
Aouam said the man who attacked him had yelled, “Take that s— and shove it up your a–,” after he had spoken Arabic.
He believes he was attacked because of what he looked like and how he spoke.
“The worst part is now I’m scared to walk alone, even around my work,” Aouam said. “I don’t talk to people anymore, when I get home I lock my house because I’m afraid he will try to come back to hurt me again.”
He added his first thought was to call the media.
“I want to be an example,” he said. “I want to tell people to be friendly, to read and learn to have more knowledge.”
Aouam said he has hired an attorney and is also reaching out to groups like the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, D.C. The ADC describes itself as “a civil rights organization committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent” and preserving culture and heritage.
“[This attack] makes me feel like I’m a foreigner again, like I can’t talk anymore,” he said. Aouam moved from Morocco to the United States six-and-a-half years ago.
He added he has faced discrimination before, but no violence until now.
“I get told to go back home, I’ve been called a terrorist,” he said. “It’s not their fault they’re ignorant. It hurts, but that’s not a big deal because it’s your belief.”
“We don’t have to have a conflict because we’re different,” Aouam added. “We’re all human. I have two eyes, one nose, five fingers on each hand, just like you,” Aouam said. “Besides, different is good. We can share information and learn.”
Julie Christie can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChristieJules