A man wielding a metal post came into Plaza Sundries, an Asian-owned convenience store near the Charlotte Transit Center, on Tuesday and trashed the business while yelling racial slurs.
It was hardly the first time an incident of that kind has happened, said Mark Sung, whose parents own the shop and were working there at the time.
“Chinese (expletive).” “Go back to your country.” These are among the insults Sung said his family, who are Korean, hear every day.
“It’s like the first thing they can think of when they look at us,” Sung said. “Usually, it’s the first thing that comes of their mouth.”
Surveillance footage of the incident shows a man coming into the store, pulling a rack full of merchandise to the floor and swinging a street sign post trying to break the glass on the refrigerators. Customers file out of the store, some jumping over the spilled merchandise on the floor. About a minute into the unprovoked attack, a man in a red shirt comes into the store.
The man in the red shirt, apparently a friend, is cheering the attacker on. As police arrive, the attacker helps himself to a Monster energy drink, said Sung, 35, who was getting supplies for the store and did not witness the attack.
After the man was arrested, Sung said his parents closed the store to clean up. But his friend returned and kept trying to make eye contact with his mother through the glass. He kept trying to cat call her, smile and flip her off, Sung said. Later, when his mother left the store to go to the restroom, the man followed her, he said.
“(He’s) making these sexual poses again and telling her to do these sexual acts and she’s just furious, but doesn’t know what to do,” the woman’s son said. Sung said the friend returned Thursday, too, to further harass his parents.
According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, the private security company G4S, which is responsible for security at the transit center, arrested 24-year-old Xavier Rashee Woody-Silas. According to public records, Woody-Silas was arrested for robbery with a dangerous weapon, communicating threats, disorderly conduct, injury to personal property and resisting a public officer.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family recover from the damages to their business.
During the pandemic, hate crimes nationally against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased 150 percent, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Another study from the University of California, San Francisco claimed that former President Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric has contributed to anti-Asian sentiment, as has the Chinese origins of the coronavirus.
In March, eight people were shot and killed in Atlanta, six of them Asian-American women working in massage parlors. Police have not said whether the shootings were a hate crime. Last week, a 65-year-old woman of Asian descent was attacked on the streets of New York City.
Many anti-Asian hate incidents — including shunning, slurs and attacks — are directed specifically at Asian women, according to the Cal State study. They’re more than twice as likely to be victims of hate, and hate crimes aren’t the only indicators of the violence Asian-American people experience.
But for the Sungs, the incident Tuesday wasn’t anything new. On the busiest days before the pandemic, Sung said the store would see around 2,000 customers, which means at least a few attempted thefts, calls to the police and slurs from angry customers every day, he said.
Pandemic has helped fuel racist feelings
Sung, who grew up on the border between Matthews and Charlotte, said while he has experienced racism his whole life, the pandemic has made it more pronounced.
At the store, business has been tight and people’s patience has been short, he said. With fewer scheduled buses, customers have waned and the store’s hours have been cut. His parents are also in debt after closing another convenience store across the street in a high-rise tower.
There have also been physical attacks in the last year. Last fall, around October, Sung said his father was chasing down someone who had been caught stealing when the person turned around and punched him, resulting in a concussion. A month later, another person caught stealing threw an unopened Coke can at his father and hit him in the eye, he said. Both incidents resulted in his father being in the hospital.
Sung said his parents, who are in their 60s, have continued to operate the store as a nest egg for him and his brother, but between the tight finances and the harassment, his parents have been stressed. His mother, who Sung described as quiet and reserved, holds it in until she can come home and cry.
The store is a family business where Sung and his 33-year-old brother have been helping out since they were teenagers. However, even during the pandemic, his parents have continued to work open to close — around 13 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays.
“(My parents) put food on our tables, so they go into work with positive attitudes every day, but they just get beat down every day with daily situations,” he said.
Around once a year, the store gets trashed and loses anywhere from $5,000 to $9,000 between lost merchandise and closed hours, he said. This week’s incident wasn’t even the worst they’ve experienced, he said.
The GoFundMe page, which was started Thursday and has raised around nearly $15,000 from 260 donors, has blown his parents away. Friends and relatives have called checking in on them, and a stranger brought over food to the store.
“(My) parents are doing better,” he said. “They see the support and they’re actually feel like people care.”
Sung’s cousin, Koun Han said she started the fundraiser because of how angry and helpless she felt. At first, she felt cynical since extra money can only do so much for her aunt and uncle, who still have to go into work during a pandemic. But then she realized that the fundraiser is also a way for people to show their support against anti-Asian racism.
“Donations to AAPI organizations and pledging to Asian business leader movements are all great, but how is that going to help people like my uncle and aunt immediately? I couldn’t really think of any other way than a GoFundMe page,” Han said in a text.