On Monday, users on Twitter and Reddit circulated a disturbing video that showed a violent, racist incident outside Capitol Hill sushi restaurant Momiji. In the clip, which the original poster has since taken down, a man — later identified as a general manager at Momiji— calls a black woman the n-word to her face during a verbal argument, then gets into a physical fight with her and another woman, before several nearby bystanders intervene to break things up. A copy of the clip is available here [note it contains racist language and violence].
The incident took place in the area now known at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), a community that formed during Seattle’s protests against police brutality and racial injustices. Momiji has been one of several restaurants that has stayed open in the vicinity during the demonstrations.
After the video was posted, the restaurant issued two notes of apology on its social media pages. One included a recorded video message from Momiji’s owners Steven Han and Lawrence Yeh, who said, in part, “We want to apologize to the Black community and the CHOP community for today’s disgusting incident ... we can’t undo what has happened, but we’ll try our best to make it right.”
Han and Yeh said they immediately fired the general manager and terminated his partnership stake in the restaurant (he wasn’t an officially a co-owner yet, but had worked with the restaurant for over 10 years and was on that track). They also promised to institute racial bias training for their staff, feed free meals to the people in the CHOP, and donate to thousands of dollars to causes devoted to helping the black community, such as WA-BLOC and Creative Justice.
But the organizations have refused the Momiji donations. In a statement posted Tuesday, WA-BLOC said, “This reactionary donation undermines the integrity and intentionality of our organization. As a result, we at WA-BLOC and Creative Justice have refunded the donation. Accepting a lump sum of funding does nothing to hold donors and businesses like this accountable.” The statement concluded, “We are calling on Momiji to use the $10,000 that was originally donated to WA-BLOC and Creative Justice to pay reparations to the Black womxn who was subjected to hate and abuse by Momiji’s former general manager. Restitution is owed to the person who was directly harmed.”
A few days after the incident, Momiji co-owner and partner Cody Burns got in touch with Eater Seattle, mentioning that the restaurant had been in communication with community leaders from CHOP and the woman from the video after the organizations turned down their donation offer, ready to make amends. “We’re asking her what she would like to see come out of this, but she hasn’t made a decision yet,” said Burns. He adds that the police are not currently investigating the incident.
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Momiji ownership is extending our sincerest apologies to the black community, specifically black women and members of CHOP, for the incident that took place earlier today. Momiji will not tolerate this type of racist malicious behavior towards any member of our community. The manager in question was terminated immediately. His partnership is no longer valid. We are trying to navigate this situation in the best ways possible. Since this afternoon, we have reached out to community leaders in CHOP, BLM and Asians for BLM in the hopes of improving the ways that we can support the community and provide a safe space for everyone. We have also donated $10,000 to black led and black-youth organizations—WA-BLOC and Creative Justice. To continue our support we will also be matching donations of up to an additional $10,000. Please email copies of receipts to mailto:email@example.com Momiji will be providing meals to the CHOP and Black Lives Matter community members outside our establishment tomorrow evening starting at 6pm. This is an open chance for us to give back to the people, support the community and engage in open conversations about how we can do better.
The local community may not soon forget what happened, though. As appalling as the video is, the incident also occurred on a block that holds great significance for those seeking an end to racial violence, since across the street is the East Precinct, a focal point for the recent protests. After backlash over the Seattle Police Department’s use of tear gas and other violent tactics, cops eventually withdrew their heavy presence in the area and boarded up the front of the precinct, leading to the formation of the CHOP.
On the same day as the fight outside Momiji, anxiety was running high for protesters in the area, since Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best announced their intentions for police to return to the precinct soon in the wake of shootings in the area over the weekend.
UPDATED, June 23, 2020, 12:54: This article was updated with a recent statement from WA-BLOC and Creative Justice explaining they have returned Momiji’s donations.
UPDATED, June 29, 2020, 1:24: This article was updated with comments from Cody Burns, co-owner at Momiji.
- Momiji [Instagram]