Washington DC

DC Tea Shop Owner Says He Was Profiled, Pepper-Sprayed by Man Yelling About COVID-19

Security camera video shows a man spraying a Chinese-American shop owner in DC and yelling at him about the coronavirus

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D.C. police are investigating the report of a hate crime that happened Tuesday at a tea shop near Dupont Circle, apparently sparked by anger over COVID-19.

Security camera video apparently shows a man spraying a Chinese-American shop owner with a substance and yelling at him about the coronavirus.

This is not the first time the victim and his tea shop have been targeted, said Yunhan Zhang, owner of Valley Brook Tea.

"I suppose it was inevitable," Zhang said. "If we keep having people verbally abuse us, it's only a matter of time [that] something turns into a physical assault."

Zhang and his wife opened their tea shop on P Street in February, just before the pandemic hit.

"We had exactly one month before shutdown," Zhang said. The shop closed down for three months at the start of the pandemic and then reopened in May.

Zhang is very proud of their tea shop.

"My family is in [the] tea business, so all the teas you see inside and all the tea ware you see inside were all manufactured by us," he said.

But in the months since they’ve opened, Zhang says they've been targeted by people harassing them about COVID-19.

"We've learned to deescalate the situation or try to persuade them to go away," he said.

But Tuesday, one man didn't go away. Security video footage shows him yelling in a doorway. He started like the others in the past, yelling from the doorway, but then he went inside. According to a police report, the man was yelling, "Chinese tea" and "COVID-19."

Video shows the man pointing in the shopkeeper's face.

Zhang can be heard repeatedly asking the man to leave. Then, the suspect reaches into his bag, pulls out a spray can and points it at the shopkeeper. "I'm calling 911," the shopkeeper says in the video.

The man then sprayed what police called a chemical or acid before leaving the store. The suspect was last seen walking east in the 2100 block of P Street NW toward Dupont Circle, a police report said.

Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

"This type of event doesn’t define what we do here," Zhang said. "We really just want to do tea."

Police are asking the public for help in identifying the suspect.

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