The 16-year-old who last week set an Oakland teen’s skirt on fire on an AC Transit bus is scheduled to present a plea before court on Friday.
Oakland High student Richard Thomas, in what his family contends was a joke but the District Attorney’s office is calling a hate crime, inflicted second and third degree burns on the legs of 18-year-old Sasha Fleischman. The teen, who identifies as agender, was in the back of the 57 bus in Oakland on November 4, when Thomas set the skirt on fire.
According to Oakland Police, Thomas cited “homophobia” as his motive, and has since been charged as an adult with aggravated mayhem and felony assault, both of which have hate crime enhancements. Thomas’ defense attorney, Daniel Shriro, said today that his team had yet to see the discovery and therefore had not crafted a defense.
“He’s a 16-year-old and he is entitled to a defense and whatever defense is appropriate we will be actively pursuing,” he said.
Although present in court today, Thomas’ family didn’t make a statement, but his mother previously told media outlets that she was sorry for her son’s actions and that she believed the act had started as “a joke.”
Since the incident, support for the Fleischmans has poured in from all directions. A fundraising campaign for medical treatment set up by the family reached its goal of $20,000 in just two days.
Students and staff at Maybeck High School, where Fleischman is a senior, wore skirts to school last Friday in an act of solidarity. Teachers and families at Sequoia Elementary, where Fleischman’s father Karl is a kindergarten teacher, have put up ribbons along the bus route on Macarthur Boulevard and on Thursday evening a march is planned along the same stretch to highlight gender issues.
In an email sent to the Sequioa Elementary community, Karl Fleischman thanked those who had shown their support, while understanding that the concept of somebody being “agendered” is foreign to many. “I realize this is a concept that even adults have difficultly wrapping their heads around,” he wrote last week.
“None of us can know the mind of the kid who lit a flame to Sasha’s skirt,” the senior Fleischman wrote. “But I have a feeling that if he had seen Sasha’s skirt as an expression of another kid’s unique, beautiful self and had smiled and thought, ‘I hella love Oakland,’ I wouldn’t be writing this now.”