Philadelphia youth hacked to death, 2 hurt as Asian-white tensions explode

August 04, 1991|By Jeffrey Fleishman and Martha Woodall | Jeffrey Fleishman and Martha Woodall,Knight-Ridder News Service

Philadelphia -- Months of smoldering racial tensions exploded early yesterday when a high school basketball star was hacked to death with a meat cleaver in a clash between white and Asian youths in a Southwest Philadelphia park.

David Reilly, 18, was slain when a group of white youths fought with a group of Asians about 2:30 a.m. in McHesse Park.

Two other 18-year-olds, Michael Roche and Brian Parker, were ++ injured. Mr. Roche, who was stabbed in the face and had part of an ear cut off, was in critical condition at Mercy Catholic Medical Center's Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital in Darby. Mr. Parker was treated at the hospital for a gash in the right temple.

Sixteen police officers stood watch yesterday in the neighborhood. It was there, in front of Regent's Tavern, that about 100 whites gathered, some shouting racial slurs, as police questioned several Asians and removed a meat cleaver and two kitchen knives from a row house.

Four Asian men were arrested yesterday; police would not release their names until they were charged.

"We're trying to preserve the world as we know it," said Lt. Stephen Johnson, commander of the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Unit. "Today's animosity is between Asians and whites."

Martin Moran, a friend of Mr. Reilly's, said he was in the park with five other white men about 2:30 a.m. yesterday when "a couple of the guys said, 'Hey, there's a couple of gooks in the park.' " Mr. Moran said at least two of the white youths walked over to the Asians.

A few minutes later, Mr. Moran said, "between 10 and 20 Asians" began chasing the white youths.

The police version differed slightly. Officers said three young Asians approached the whites, who were drinking beer. One of the Asians left and returned with more youths.

"David Reilly went to help out his friends," Mr. Moran said. "But four or five of [the Asian group] just started whacking away on him, and he started hemorrhaging."

Mr. Reilly died of multiple stab wounds in the chest and back, the medical examiner's office said.

A standout basketball player at West Catholic High School, Mr. Reilly had won a sports scholarship to Williamson College.

The clash was the most violent of recent skirmishes between whites and Asians, mainly Vietnamese, who have moved into the eclectic neighborhood of row houses, churches and Asian food shops in the past year.

Graffiti were a tapestry of hate: The letters "KKK" were scrawled in green spray paint alongside the name "Buddha" in black.

Bare-chested young white men drinking Piels and Budweiser shouted "gooks" and "faggots" at Asians across 65th Street.

"This is the last enclave of white people in this section of Southwest Philadelphia," said Joseph O'Donnell, who has lived there for 12 years. "Certainly, there's some tension. They've [Asians] been good neighbors and law-abiding citizens." He and some other residents said incidents of violence were isolated and mainly the result of beer and heat.

Dung Quoc Bui sat frightened on his porch across the street from Regent's Tavern yesterday afternoon. "Sometimes we go out," the young man said, shirtless and smoking a cigarette, "and they'll be in front of the tavern and they'll be drinking too much, and they'll hit us when they feel like it. They hit you in the back with bottle caps.

"We had to borrow money to buy this house. We have nowhere to move. So at night we now stay inside."

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