Assault on Korean shop owners investigated as possible hate crime, Houston police say

Jung Kim went to pick up wigs that customers knocked to the ground at her family’s north Houston beauty supply shop. Her son, Sungjun Lee, said his mother told the women, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll fix it.”

But the women cursed at the Korean business owner, Lee said, saying that Asian people should not be selling wigs to Black people and accusing the business of stealing their money.

Kim asked the group to leave, but the encounter escalated when two women physically assaulted the owners of Uptown Beauty Salon. Houston police are now investigating the March 17 incident as a possible hate crime in light of a national surge in violence targeting the Asian American community.

Video: Houston Chronicle

Seconds after leaving, the customers returned and knocked over more displays. One woman hit Kim several times, breaking her nose. She scratched Lee in the face when he and his brother intervened to protect their mother. As the attackers fled, the driver attempted to plow into several members of the owner’s family with her car before peeling out of the parking lot.

A week later, the family still feels traumatized and unsafe in their store following what they believe was a racially-motivated attack, Lee said.

“I’m pretty sure they came to the store with a purpose,” the 29-year-old said Wednesday.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office charged Keaundra Young, 24, with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the attempt to hit the store owners with her car, court records show. Young was released from jail on $40,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court in June.

A second woman, 22-year-old Daquiesha Rachel Williams, was charged with assault, accusing of striking one of the family member’s with her hand, court records show. She also made bond and is no longer in custody.

“Our work continues, as prosecutors review all the evidence; Texas law provides for heftier sentencing for hate crimes, which unleash fear in an entire community,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement.

On Wednesday afternoon, Houston police hate crime investigators decided to look into the reported assault because of the atmosphere of concern surrounding a national rise in anti-Asian American violence, said Jodi Silva, the agency’s public information officer.

At first, the case was not being investigated as a hate crime, she said. Patrol officers did not make note of any racial slurs used during the attack in their offense report, which Silva acknowledged “may have been an oversight.”

Lee said he told the responding police officers about the attackers’ racial language during an interview.

The family said they believe the assault was racially motivated because of the words and actions of the assailants, Lee said. They think the attackers targeted Kim because she is older, small in stature and Asian, Lee said.

“Whenever the one girl beat up my mom, she said ‘You little young Asian girl,’” Lee said. “They say a lot of racial words like, ‘F—ing Asians, f—ing b— Asians’ to my mom and to us.”

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