Supporters rally for Berkeley student set on fire on bus

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Sasha Fleischman, a senior at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, was badly burned when set fire to on a bus Monday. Photo: Fundly

Support and funds are pouring in for an 18-year-old Berkeley student who was set on fire while riding an AC Transit bus in Oakland Monday evening.

Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, a senior at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School, was sleeping in the rear of a bus heading toward East Oakland. Fleischman’s skirt was set on fire, according to a report in the Contra Costa Times.

Police arrested a 16-year-old Oakland High School student Tuesday on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem. He could face other charges, according to the Tribune, which said he was identified through surveillance video on the bus.

Fleischman, with the help of other riders, was able to extinguish the flames but suffered second- and third-degree burns to the legs that will require significant skin grafting. The student is in stable condition at St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s Bothin Burn Center in San Francisco and has a good prognosis for recovery, according to an email sent out to the Maybeck community by the school’s director, Trevor Cralle, Tuesday.

Fleischman does not identify as male or female but rather as “agender,” and feels comfortable wearing a skirt, Debbie Fleischman, the victim’s mother, told the Tribune.

Laurie Kahn, operations and finance manager at Maybeck High School, a private, multi-cultural high school on College Avenue in South Berkeley, said Wednesday that Fleischman is a “remarkable kid” and an “excellent student” who is a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist.

“This has been devastating for all the community,” she said

Fleischman prefers to be referred to as “they” rather than “he” or “she,” Kahn added. “Sasha worked out the gender issues on their own and we try to respect the wish to be referred to as ‘they.’”

Friends and acquaintances have been quick to rally around to support the Berkeley student. At the time of writing, nearly $16,000 has been raised from 283 people through a campaign set up on the Fundly website by Fleischman’s cousin, Joshua Allan. Nearly 200 comments expressing support have also been left on the site. The fundraising goal is currently set at $20,000, with funds earmarked for medical bills.

The Maybeck office is accepting cards and gifts for Sasha, but note that flowers are not permitted in the burn unit of the hospital.

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  • Animal Farm

    All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.

  • Lee Keels

    Sasha does not identify as “agender”…please use the term that they actually chose, which is “genderqueer.”

  • Aaron Rosenberg

    “just evil” is kind of a supernatural concept, and we’d do best to abolish this kind of mysticism if we’re going to figure out why people behave like this. There’s lots more to be learned, for instance, from a brain scan than a label of “evil.”

  • Clive Richards

    using words like him or her are not disrespectful, certainly not intentionally, they are such common words that we use them automatically in the same way as “the” “a” and so on. “They” (see I remembered this time, can expect their close friends and family to do this but it is not realistic, and a little unfair, to expect the whole world to. This is an act of vandalism that could never be justified but lets not confuse the issue around a word. If it comes into popular use, as gay has, then probably people will start to use it more naturally but as it is any schoolchild would be marked down for incorrect grammar if they used it.

  • Ren

    It ‘s almost cute how steadfastly you cling to grammar ideals your 6 th grade English teacher taught you. Language is ever changing and flexible. It evolves to keep up with the constant flux of culture. They and them are perfectly viable options for gender neutral singular pronouns. Who are you to deny this person the right to identify in this way? Maybe next time before making such a silly argument about what is ‘propper’ educate yourself in the history of linguistics and the cultural relevance of language before bringing your middle school lessons to this adult conversation.

  • GirlWithTheCane

    Sasha prefers “they”. I might not make the same choice, but this isn’t about my life. It doesn’t take anything away from me to respect someone else’s wishes, especially over a pronoun. If “they” makes Sasha respected, what’s the big issue? The most important thing here is that they get the physical and emotional support that they need to make as full a recovery as possible…and that continuing steps be taken to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again.

  • Diamond

    It bothers me that some people’s comments are so critical, do they not get it, this is the root of all the verbal abuse people get, let people just be who they are and why is wanting to be called they any different than any other nickname people choose, that makes the victim comfortable and that is what should be respected. It should not even really matter the significance of any phonetically correct use of they.

  • Robyn Ann

    Let’s at least wait for them to reach the age of maturity before we decide permanently (i do agree with the long time as you might).

  • Robyn Ann

    I learned a new word. Thank you. :)

  • Roman Zdenek

    Sasha identifies as having no gender, and uses the singular ‘they’ pronoun – not as a man. I suggest thinking of everyone and anyone as a person, first and foremost, since everyone, regardless of their gender identity (which should be respected) has the right to the common respect and dignity which should be allotted to everyone.

    You could easily and respectfully say, ‘Stay strong, young Sasha’ instead.

  • Roman Zdenek

    It should count as a hate crime if it was motivated by the victim’s ethnicity, sexual identity, or gender identity. If a white, heterosexual, cis-gender person was targeted for being white/heterosexual/cis-gender, that should count as a hate crime. If we want equality, and equal treatment for everyone, that’s how it should go.

  • Roman Zdenek

    Calm down, it was a hypothetical. If a homosexual man did commit a crime against a heterosexual man for being heterosexual, it should still count as a hate crime, the same as it is a hate crime for a heterosexual man to commit a crime against a homosexual man for being homosexual.

  • Jack

    OK first off there is no inherent evil in human beings. There is capability to do evil things, but no one is, perse, evil.
    I do agree that what they did was a terrible, terrible idea, but I do not know if permanently removing someone from society is the key if you are talking about killing them.
    Certainly a long prison sentence would be fitting. What they did could have ruined someone’s life, and a lot of other people’s lives too.
    I am, in NO WAY, defending the person, of course.
    I believe they deserve what they get.

  • Rebecca

    “they” and “them” is an accepted pronoun in the trans community. It is mainly used by people who recognize that they do not fit in the gender binary. Others use it to refer to them out of respect

  • perspective

    As long as people are working out what prison sentence they think the suspect deserves, it might be worth passing along a letter (allegedly) from Sasha’s father. It reads, in part:

    I also wanted to address how to talk to your kids about this incident.
    It’s in the news, and especially since it involves a Sequoia family, it
    may come up at school. I think it’s really important to keep in mind
    that none of us can know the mind, motivations, or intentions of the
    person who set flame to Sasha’s clothing. Oakland Police have a
    16-year-old high school student in custody, based on video camera
    footage from the bus. As far as I know, police are the only people who
    have viewed the footage. I certainly haven’t, so I can only guess at
    what happened. At this point, I choose to assume that this kid was
    playing with fire, and that he gravely underestimated the consequences
    of that. Others may make different assumptions, but it’s important to
    remember that they are all just that: assumptions. So when I talk to my
    students about this, I will emphasize the importance of fire safety.
    “Don’t play with matches or lighters.” And of course “Stop, Drop, and
    Roll” if your clothing catches fire.

  • bingo

    out of disappointed irony. sorry–apparently that needed explication.

  • Inis_Magrath

    — “…hasn’t bought into this PC gender identity thing…”

    Oh, you mean science? Yeah. Lots of Americans unfortunately haven’t bough into that.

  • msplean

    “They” for a singular person is perfectly acceptable within the commonly accepted bounds of the English language. This is a fundamental thing and it’s important to know if you’re going to continue speaking this language.