'DWTS' star Suni Lee says she was pepper sprayed in racially motivated attack

"I just let it happen."

November 12, 2021, 11:11 AM

Gymnast Suni Lee, who won a gold medal at the Olympics this summer, is opening up about a racially motivated attack she said she recently experienced.

In an interview with PopSugar, the 18-year-old "Dancing With the Stars" contestant recalled an act of anti-Asian hate against her and her girlfriends, who are also of Asian descent, as they were waiting for an Uber at night.

Lee said they were startled by a group of people in a car who yelled out racist slurs and epithets while insisting they "go back to where they came from." One passenger, she claimed, sprayed her arm with pepper spray as the car sped off.

"I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off," she told PopSugar. "I didn't do anything to them, and having the reputation, it's so hard because I didn't want to do anything that could get me into trouble. I just let it happen."

While Lee is using her platform to call out incidents like this, she said discussing uncomfortable topics like racial justice is difficult -- especially for someone at her age.

There has been an increasing number of hate crimes targeting people of Asian descent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the FBI, hate crimes against people of Asian descent rose by 76% in 2020. There were 279 reported hate crimes against people of Asian descent in 2020, compared to 158 the year prior.

Lee recently opened up about the bullying she's received while on "DWTS," telling pro dance partner Sasha Farber, "On social media, I always see a lot of mean comments about like me not being able to dance or [saying] I need to go home."

"I feel like they're right. I let them get to me and I'm just like, 'See, no one believes that I can do it.' I did not think I would make it this far," she said of the hurtful words. "If I didn't care about what everybody said, like I feel like I could be so much better."

Lee is now in the semifinals of "DWTS" season 30.

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