A video screened for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week depicted an altercation between two men and a group of protestors -- an incident that sparked an international uproar on both sides of the Pacific.
The demonstrators were members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and the attackers were accused of being employed by the Chinese Communist Party.
The Falun Gong say this is the latest assault in a series of eight by party members in recent months, a pattern they suspect is being orchestrated by local Chinese Consulate-General.
Falun Gong, a following first introduced in China in 1992, combines meditation with philosophy and has been largely condemned by the Chinese government.
The video, filmed around noon on June 10 near the intersection of Grant and Washington Streets in San Francisco's Chinatown, shows a man attacking a group of Falun Gong protestors. The demonstrators held signs accusing the Chinese government of illegally harvesting organs from Falun Gong dissidents in China.
Later, another man appeared on the scene and began threatening the Falun Gong members recording the incident on cell phone cameras. "Your filming is not right," he said, "If [we were] in mainland China, I would break your leg."
The Falun Gong practitioners have insisted that in this case, as in all the other assaults they've been subjected to in San Francisco over the past year, they have refused to retaliate.
Police Officer Carlos Manfredi said the exact motivations for the assaults remain unclear.
"There’s something going on, but I'm not sure we can prove this person is a member of the Chinese Communist Party or not," Manfredi said. "What we do have is misdemeanor battery. This is fairly new and we’re starting to get information about this."
Falun Gong spokesperson Sherry Zhang insists the violence is being coordinated by the Chinese government and should be considered hate crimes. "The attacks are directed at practitioners who are telling people about Falun Gong,” Zhang explained to the Epoch Times. "They are often wearing clothes that identify them as practitioners and they are passing out materials that tell people about their faith. Their attackers often curse Falun Gong while committing acts of violence. These are hate crimes."
If the investigation shows that the folks were attacked based on their religion," San Francisco Police Department chief Greg Suhr told New Tang Dynasty Television, "absolutely that would be a hate crime. "
A few days after the attack, Falun Gong members gathered in Chinatown for a rally protesting the violence.
"Though I am safe in the U.S., I know there are many more practitioners in China whose lives are in danger, including my mother,” one of the assault victims at the rally told Truth In China, a local pro-Falun Gong blog.
Falun Gong was outlawed in China in 1999 for being a "cult" antithetical to Chinese values and its practitioners there have been subjected to brutal repression.
Treatment of the Falun Gong has long been a sore spot in typically warm relationship between China and San Francisco.
Soon after Falun Gong was banned in its home country, then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was set to proclaim " Li Hongzhi Day" in the city, after movement's founder. But he quickly backed off, saying he didn't want to get involved in another country's internal politics.
Since 2006, the Falun Gong have been requesting a spot in the annual Chinese New Year Parade. The organizing Chinese Chamber of Commerce continually rejects the group for being too political.
In 2001, then-Supervisor Chris Daly proposed a non-binding resolution before the city's Board of Supervisors condemning the Chinese government for its treatment of the Falun Gong. It was never passed.
Chinese consular officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.