A beauty salon in Orlando has become the target of racist vandalism after being misidentified as a business owned by a woman who was filmed making anti-Asian comments at a local restaurant last week.
Iris Mejia, owner of Beauty Bar Orlando, said she has been receiving death threats since June 13, soon after the incident at King Cajun Crawfish took place and the video in question was posted on social media.
The woman in the video, who King Cajun identified as Elizabeth Knighton, hurled racist abuse at the restaurant’s Asian staff after allegedly failing to get a refund for what she claimed were spoiled shrimp.
“You’re a Chinese bitch,” the woman told King Cajun manager Kristen Nguyen, as heard in the video. “You want me to spell it for you? You’re a Chinese bitch. That’s what you are.”
The woman reportedly left the counter saying unintelligible words in a mock Asian accent. At one point, she returned and told Nguyen, “Take your ass back to your country, ching-chong.”
It was not long before social media users tracked down Knighton, who owns a salon called Bodi Beauty Bar, according to reports. The Baldwin-based business has since taken down its Google listing. But despite this, some online users have mistaken Mejia as the woman in the video, culminating in the vandalism of her salon last weekend.
“Ever since Monday, I have received threatening phone calls, death threats and threats to burn down my business, all over mistaken identity. My stylists and I have lost business due to the threats and fear of coming to work,” Mejia wrote on her GoFundMe campaign, which she organized to help her business recover losses.
“The threats seemed empty, until today,” she continued. “When I arrived at my salon, it was completely vandalized. Someone painted racial slurs all over the outside of the building.”
The graffiti included the words “Go back to your cage” and “bitch monkey.” Mejia told The Daily Beast that she was hospitalized after the vandalism for her emotional well-being.
“It was horrible. Everyone thinks it’s me,” she reportedly said in tears.
King Cajun has been trying to deflect the attention away from Mejia’s business. Following the vandalism, the restaurant released a statement urging the public to “not fight hate with hate” and to support Mejia the way they were supported.
“Beauty Bar Orlando owned by Iris @beautybarorl @iris.edu_hairguru is INNOCENT and they have nothing to do with the incident,” King Cajun wrote on Instagram. “Today, they were vandalized. We are devastated by this news. Iris is very sweet, kind and she is a hardworking businesswoman.”
As of this writing, Mejia’s GoFundMe has raised $6,692 of its $10,000 goal for five stylists and two estheticians, including herself.
Meanwhile, King Cajun said in a new statement that they have filed a police report against Knighton, who will be arrested for trespassing if she returns to the restaurant. Nguyen told NextShark that they cannot pursue hate crime charges, because while the incident involved hate speech, there was no crime committed.
“During the meeting, they informed us what hate crime is. It has to have a crime committed with hate speech,” Nguyen said of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. “There is not much that they can do because there was no crime committed. But they helped us with an incident number and expressed that they are here for us and here to help.”