Brooklyn’s Chinese-American community is fighting back against claims that race was at the center of the infamous Brooklyn nail salon brawl that occurred earlier this month.
Protesters, including Assemblywoman Diana Richardson (D-Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush), have called for the closing of New Red Apple Nails salon in East Flatbush after a video posted to Facebook last Friday showed the Chinese nail salon employees hitting three black female customers with broomsticks. The customers had apparently refused to pay for the services rendered.
While protestors say the attacks were racially motivated, with Richardson labeling them a “hate crime” in a Facebook live video which has since been removed, Chinese community leaders say those claims are unfair, and that the entire Chinese community should not be held responsible.
At a press conference Sunday at the Golden Imperial Palace in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, Asian American Community Empowerment President John Chan said, “This episode involved only one store in an area where relations between Chinese-Americans and African-Americans have largely been harmonious. It has nothing to do with race.”
According to Chan, in a meeting with U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Brownsville), Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), Richardson, and leaders in the Chinese community, Richardson laid out a set of demands for the Chinese community as a whole in response to the incident. Those demands included a statement from the “Asian” community, as well as a public apology from the store owner, according to Chan.
Chan noted that he does not have control over the store owner and said, “We don’t see the action of individuals to be representative of an entire population.”
“Even as many of our countrymen in the food delivery trade befell victims to murderous and violent assaults, we’ve never held an entire population accountable,” Chan said.
Jerry Lo, Vice President of the Coalition of Asian Americans for Civil Rights, responded to Richardson’s demands, stating, “That is not fair. Who does Diana Richardson represent? All of us or just one group?”
Richardson did not respond to a KCP request for comment.
Community leaders at the press conference further noted inaccuracies in media reports following the incident, and the incomplete video footage circulating on social media.
Initial reports said the brawl started after the customers refused to pay $5 for an eye brow wax. According to Summer Chan of the Chinese-American Nail Salon Association, who spoke with the salon owner, after the owner removed the $5 eye brow charge and an extra $3 from the bill, the customers allegedly refused to pay for their entire bill, including two pedicures, totaling $31.
Chan said the owner then called the police. Noting that the police station is just two blocks from the salon, and that the owner would go on to call the police five times in total, Chan said it was in the 23 minutes before the police arrived that tensions started to rise.
Chan said that in CCTV footage from a different angle obtained by KCP, the customers knocked items off the front desk. Due to the quality of the video, KCP could not verify the customer’s actions.
Chan also noted that the customers called another woman from outside the salon. In the complete video footage, the woman can be seen cracking her knuckles and pacing around the salon.
It is unclear exactly what happened in the moments before the brawl began, however, the complete video footage then appears to show the customers and employees converging, and the customers throwing punches at the salon employees while the employees hit the customers with broomsticks.
Following the incident, Huiyue Zheng, 32, an employee, was charged with felony assault, and three misdemeanor charges of menacing, criminal possession of a weapon and harassment. Customer Christina Thomas, 21, was charged with three misdemeanors: assault, menacing and harassment.
One store employee was also hospitalized. Footage obtained by KCP shows the employee with cuts on her face.
Kenneth Chiu, Director General of Brooklyn Asian Communities Empowerment, said he did not want to take sides on the brawl, but that he hoped the public would adopt a more nuanced view.
“We feel it is an isolated incident. I’m not trying to defend the business, but from my understanding this is the first major incident at that business, and it should be taken as is, not something bigger,” Chiu said.
Chiu also said he hoped that the incident would not affect other nail salons in the area. Protesters last week gathered outside a nearby salon, which they mistakenly believed to share ownership with New Red Apple Nails Salon.
At the press conference, John Chan urged business owners not to take matters into their own hands. “Call the police and let the law and the court resolve the matter. We encourage all business owners or their management to talk to employees and come up with a protocol when issues arise.”