’Gender Nonconforming’ Student, Burned in ’Prank,’ Receives Support
The gender-nonconforming high school student who was burned on a bus in Oakland is continuing to recover from their injuries as the attorney for the boy charged in the attack claims it was a "prank."
Luke Sasha Fleischman, 18, of Oakland, had fallen asleep on an AC Transit bus November 4 when Richard Allen Thomas, 16, also of Oakland, allegedly set Fleischman’s skirt on fire. Sasha Fleischman prefers "they," "them," and "their," when people refer to them in the third person, according to Karl Fleischman, Fleischman’s father.
In a phone interview Tuesday, November 19, Karl Fleischman said Sasha Fleischman was still in the hospital but "recovering gradually, and I think it’s according to the timetable that the doctors are expecting. I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but things are looking good, I would say."
Attorney William Du Bois appeared with Thomas Friday, November 15 in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland before Superior Court Judge Eric L. Labowitz. Du Bois wants Thomas processed as a juvenile and filed a motion Friday challenging prosecutors’ decision to charge him as an adult.
Thomas had been expected to enter a plea Friday to charges of aggravated mayhem and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Both counts carry a hate crime enhancement. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Outside court, Du Bois said, "As far as I can tell," the incident "was the result of a juvenile prank that went horribly wrong."
He questioned an Oakland police officer previously indicating that Thomas had admitted he was homophobic.
"Members of his family are gay," said Du Bois. "He doesn’t have a homophobic bone in his body." Du Bois said one of Thomas’s family members who has come to Thomas’s court hearings is gay. That person, along with Thomas’s mother and other family members, have declined to speak with reporters, although one said Friday, "Please pray."
Du Bois said Thomas has written "sincere, heartfelt apologies" and expressed sympathy and empathy with Fleischman. Thomas "feels absolutely horrible about this," said Du Bois, who added that Thomas’s family is "upset that he’d even consider this type of a prank."
He said he hasn’t seen the video of the incident, but Thomas used a lighter, thinking "it was just going to be a flame and he’d pat it out." Du Bois said he didn’t know whether Thomas had tried to put out the fire.
Asked about Du Bois’s comment that the incident resulted from a prank, and what he’d like to see happen with Thomas, Karl Fleischman said, "We haven’t really had time to process all that, and so I think I’d rather not comment on that."
Karl Fleischman and Debbie Crandall spoke to people who showed up to support their child Luke Sasha Fleischman at a march November 14.
He said he’d heard about Thomas writing letters of apology, but the family hasn’t received any. He said they had received information that said Thomas was forbidden "from making any contact with the victim, or maybe with the family, so I’m a little confused about."
"I don’t know if the letters have been written, and are just waiting until they can be sent legally," said Fleischman.
Thomas, who was wearing a blue shirt that included the word "juvenile," in court, calmly faced several family members who were present last Friday as at least one of them waved at him.
Du Bois once represented Jose Merel, one of the men convicted in the 2002 murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo.
Oakland City councilwomen Rebecca Kaplan, an out lesbian and the council’s president pro tem, and Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney have introduced a resolution asking their City Council colleagues to express their solidarity with Sasha Fleischman. The resolution also declares Wednesday, November 20 "Transgender Remembrance Day" in Oakland.
"An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us," Kaplan said in a statement. "... I’ll continue to pray that Sasha recovers fully and quickly, and I’ll continue working to create a community that supports the right of all to be free from violence."
McElhaney stated, "I’m proud to stand in solidarity with my colleagues to honor Sasha Fleischman. The violence inflicted upon transgender members of our society is significant and it must end."
The Transgender Day of Remembrance in Oakland was held Wednesday night at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. It was expected to include interim Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent; Oakland Mayor Jean Quan; event organizer Tiffany Woods, program manager for the Fremont-based TransVision program; and others.
"Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals routinely experience acts of violence against them simply for expressing their gender identity and expression," a TDOR-related news release from the Oakland Police Department said. "Many attacks never get reported. The recent horrific act of violence" against Fleischman "is an everyday reminder of the deadly and pervasive nature of anti-transgender bias."
People wishing to make donations to assist Fleischman may go to https://fundly.com/helping-sasha-fleischman-have-a-speedy-recovery.
Funds raised beyond what’s needed will possibly go to an organization that deals with issues such as gender identity or anti-bullying, said Karl Fleischman.
"We haven’t really figured out what that would be yet," he said. "We want to have Sasha’s input."
Thomas didn’t enter a plea Friday. His next court date is November 26.