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DC police investigating 'suspected hate crime' in Dupont Circle tea shop; suspect yelled 'COVID-19' and 'Chinese'

The incident occurred at Valley Brook Tea Tuesday. NOTE: Video contains graphic content.

WASHINGTON — The Metropolitan Police Department says it is investigating an assault that its deeming a "suspected hate crime" in a Dupont Circle tea shop Tuesday.

Yunhan Zhang, owner of Valley Brook Tea, said the incident occurred around 9:42 a.m. Surveillance video from the store shows a man enter the tea shop yelling “COVID-19” and “Chinese”.

In the video, which is posted at the top of this story, Zhang can be heard asking the man to leave the business.

“Go away right now,” Zhang said. 

But the man ignores Zhang's request before he sprays pepper spray in Zhang's direction.

"It wasn't exactly like one thing led to another," he said. "It just all happened."

Zhang said the spray got on his face, arms, and clothes. He added he was choking when he called 911. Zhang called the incident a hate crime. 

"I think the motive is very clear," he said. "It's racially motivated."

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Zhang said this is the second time he has been attacked in recent months. He said a person slapped him outside his business and stole some of his personal belongings in July.

Zhang said the store’s neighbors in Dupont Circle have been supportive. However, he said it has become tiresome to deal with such incidents.

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“It seems we're the only business that keeps getting harassed and attacked in this neighborhood,” Zhang tweeted. “We cannot stay in business if this happens on a weekly/monthly basis. Please help us identify this individual.”

MPD says it has not arrested a person in connection to the case.

Stop AAPI Hate, a project of Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and SF State University's Asian American Studies, has received more than 2,700 complaints of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in America since March.

"Hate crimes have absolutely no place in the District of Columbia," Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto said. "We cannot sit idly by and let these attacks become even more commonplace or sustain a culture in which individuals assault someone on account of their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or other identity." 

Pinto also said that legislation was introduced to the D.C. Council to allow the D.C. Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes and close legal loopholes often used to circumvent justice. The bill is slated for markup in the Judiciary Committee on Nov. 23. 

"It is imperative that we are clear that this behavior is unacceptable both through legal protections and by each taking our responsibility to build an inclusive community seriously," Pinto said. 

Dr. Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, co-founded Stop AAPI Hate. He said use of terms like "the China Virus" and COVID fatigue have made some people more angry at Asians. 

Jeung said action needs to be taken to stop the hatred.

"We need multiple policy approaches, both public education or civil rights enforcement or hate crimes enforcement," he said.

Anyone with information on this case or the suspect in the video is asked to contact MPD.

Zhang said he just wants to be able to turn his attention to his business.

"We want to focus on what we do, not being distracted by just random criminal things," he said.

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