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Originally published Tuesday, February 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

A savage blow, fueled by hate, and no one steps forward

Kyle Descher, a Washington State University senior from Aberdeen, never knew what hit him on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Dr. King had a dream that a wave of racial tolerance would sweep America from sea to shining sea.

The Daily World (Aberdeen

Kyle Descher, a Washington State University senior from Aberdeen, never knew what hit him on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Dr. King had a dream that a wave of racial tolerance would sweep America from sea to shining sea.

Descher, born in Korea but as American as a Big Mac, woke up on the floor of Mike's bar in Pullman living a nightmare.

Sucker-punched by a cowardly lout, he suffered a severely broken jaw and may have permanent facial nerve damage.

On the way in the door minutes earlier, the former Hoquiam High School student-body president and his roommate had encountered three guys — two white, one black. As they passed, one of them declared, "Real cool f***ing Asian."

Descher turned and asked if he'd heard it right.

The slur was repeated.

Descher said, "Whatever, man. Have a nice life."

The three followed Descher and his roommate into the bar.

A few minutes later, in a flash, someone behind him unleashed a savage blow that broke his jaw in two places and knocked him to the floor, unconscious and bleeding badly from the mouth.

The Pullman police arrived hard on the heels of the paramedics, but they could find no one who saw the assailant — or at least who would say they saw the assailant.

Descher was en route to a Spokane hospital for emergency surgery. It took three titanium plates to get his jaw back together. His mouth is now wired shut; he's fed through a straw and he wakes up several times a night from the throbbing pain. He hopes he will be able to graduate on time this spring.

"These past few days have been hell," he said in an e-mail at midweek.

You don't need Sherlock Holmes or CSI to deduce that Descher likely was the victim of a hate crime.

"It's a vicious act" regardless, the police chief in Pullman, Ted Weatherly, told me, "and I'd like nothing better than to catch this coward and see him prosecuted."

Bar fights in a rural college town like Pullman are common, especially after big events, according to the chief. The nationally ranked Coug basketball team had defeated Oregon earlier in the evening.

"But hate crimes are unusual here," Weatherly said. "There's a high level of education and a diverse flavor to the community because of the college. Normally, when we see racially motivated crimes, it's not by locals. The perpetrators are usually from out of the area. We don't know if that's the case this time, but that's my hunch. ... "

Even in a crowded bar, it defies credulity that someone could be assaulted so savagely by someone who just walked away, with no one getting a good glimpse of his face.

Unfortunately, the video cameras in the bar provide only a live feed. There's no tape to review.

Chief Weatherly said, "Police in America and around the world are seeing a disturbing trend: An assault, or worse, occurs and nobody knows anything ... nobody saw anything. No one wants to get involved."

The Friends of Kyle Descher — and there are many — have raised $5,250 for a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his assailant.

I'm Kyle's uncle, so I'm especially heartsick and outraged over this crime. But you should be, too. And don't just take my word for what kind of guy he is. Ask anyone who knows him. Friendly, compassionate and committed, he was voted the "most inspirational player" on Hoquiam High's 2004 state champion basketball team. He's an easygoing college kid who loves sports, but he's no boozer or brawler. He was neither drunk nor belligerent that night. He did nothing to pick a fight. He walked away from one.

His only crime apparently was being a "f***ing Asian."

My two daughters and Kyle's brother, John, now serving in the Marine Corps, are also Korean-American, adopted at birth and raised in Grays Harbor. The cousins are more like brothers and sisters, and the aunts and uncles more like a second set of parents. Kyle's dad teaches math at Aberdeen High School; his mom is an office manager.

Growing up, the kids experienced random acts of insensitivity and garden-variety prejudice, mostly a byproduct of childhood ignorance. Any parent of a minority child can tell you the stories. Your 6-year-old comes home in tears because she was called a "gook," "spook," "ho" or "beaner" on the playground. Once in the supermarket, when my daughter Sarah was a toddler, a drunk leaned over and declared, "I used to shoot at people who look like you!"

It's hard to explain ignorance and hatred to an innocent child. And it's hard to swallow at any age if you care about the family of man. Left unchallenged, it metastasizes.

My hunch is that Kyle's assailant has done something like this before, and if he's not caught and punished, he's likely to do something like this again.

If Kyle had hit his head just so on a bar stool, a pool table or even just the floor, he might have suffered a fatal brain injury or been paralyzed for life.

Kyle says it's likely just a coincidence, but a good friend of his — also Korean — had a knife pulled on him the night before Kyle's jaw was shattered.

"Pretty scary stuff, Uncle John. ... "

Of all the things I hate, I hate hate the most.

Kyle Descher, through an aching, clenched jaw, still has his head on straight.

"Crazy things happen in life, and what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger in the end," he told the student newspaper.

John C. Hughes, editor and publisher of The Daily World at Aberdeen, can be reached at pub@thedailyworld.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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