At what point does a racial rant become a crime?
That’s what one Asian American restaurant owner in Palo Alto is asking after a customer berated her because her restaurant doesn't currently accept cash.
The customer’s rant happened almost two weeks ago. Restaurant owner Lumi Gardner called the incident traumatic. But she says what’s even more terrifying is the idea that this person can do it again to someone else.
“He said it was 'un-American' of me not to take cash,” she said.
Gardner owns Fuki-Sushi in Palo Alto, where because of the pandemic and staff shortage, she only takes electronic payments. Signage about that has been posted throughout the restaurant.
When a customer got angry, Gardner said she'd make an exception. But she says he then took it a step further.
“'Where were you born? Were you even born here?' I didn’t even want to justify that with an answer,” Gardner said.
The rant continued.
“Did you go to school here? You don’t belong here, go back to your country,” the customer said, according to Gardner.
Gardner called the police and said she's worried the person could come back. But Palo Alto police say they have investigated and found “no crime was committed.” Police added that the department denounces hateful behavior. But they also say under state law, there’s a difference between a hate crime, which is premeditated, and a hate incident, which involves name-calling protected by free speech.
“When I heard about this case, it made my heart sink,” Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka said, adding more people need to come forward to make change. "I think we need more representation, more people need to get involved."
Gardner said she needed to speak up for her staff, who she sees as family.
“They said: 'Lum, if you were born here, if this happens to you, that could happen to our kids.' That really impressed upon me," Gardner said. She added that she has received a lot of support from the community and has a Facebook page where people are donating to help stop hate.
Police said if someone feels threatened but not physically harmed, they could seek a restraining order.