(KTLA) – Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee said she was pepper-sprayed during a racist attack while in Los Angeles last month.
The Olympian shared details of the incident during an interview with PopSugar.
Lee said she was waiting for an Uber after a night out with her friends, all Asian Americans, when a group of people in a car drove up and started yelling slurs like “ching chong” and telling Lee and her friends to “go back to where they came from.”
One of the passengers then sprayed the Olympian’s arm with pepper spray as the car left the scene, Lee said.
Details of the where and when the attack took place were not included in PopSugar’s article, although Lee confirmed to CNN that the incident happened in October while she was at rehearsals for ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” in Los Angeles.
“I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off,” she told PopSugar.
Lee, the first Hmong American to go to the Olympics, captured the women’s all-around gold medal in Tokyo in July.
The attack on Lee comes amid reports of increasing violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that gathers data on racially motivated attacks related to the pandemic, said there were 9,081 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents between March 2020 and June 2021, noting that incidents in 2021 were on track to outpace those reported in 2020.
In Los Angeles County alone, anti-Asian hate crimes surged 76% in 2020, according to a report released in October by the county’s Commission on Human Relations. In addition, more than three-quarters of the 44 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in L.A. County last year involved physical violence, according to the report.
Lee isn’t even the only Olympian to report a racist attack this year. Sakura Kokumai, a 28-year-old karate athlete, was practicing ahead of the Tokyo Games at a park in Orange, California, when she says a man approached her, yelled threats, spat at her and yelled anti-Asian slurs. In September, he was charged with a hate crime.
The attacks on Lee and Kokumai also came after President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in May, expediting reviews of anti-Asian hate crimes.