Kaz Okochi Credit: Courtesy of Kaz Sushi Bistro

The owner of Kaz Sushi Bistro is raising money for one of his employees who was assaulted Friday night. According to Kaz Okochi, two Asian employees were looking for transportation home after their shift when they encountered a man on the sidewalk at 20th and I streets NW.

Okochi, who went and met his employees at the scene, says the man questioned whether his workers were Chinese and responsible for COVID-19. “One said no,” Okochi says. “Immediately after that, the guy hit her head very badly and threw her to the ground.”

A police report from the incident that occurred around 10 p.m. on June 26 confirms that a female victim was “hit and forced to the floor” in an attempt to commit robbery or simple assault. The report also says the suspect fled the scene and canvassing the neighborhood didn’t turn up any leads. The victim has asked that her name be kept private. 

“I’ve heard similar things happening in this country and other countries,” Okochi says. There has been a sharp increase in xenophobic and racist incidents targeting members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the U.S. since the start of COVID-19. “Of course it’s shocking. You just have to be aware of that and be cautious about it.” 

Okochi has tried to understand what could make the suspect respond in such a way. “The guy may have lost his job because of the shutdown. Or maybe his family member died from coronavirus,” he says. “I’m sure he believes it came from China and so he’s relating it to Chinese people. Even if it’s Chinese, the virus has nothing to do with [my employees].” 

According to Okochi, his employee had to be seen at INOVA Hospital for her injuries. Kaz Sushi Bistro does not offer her health insurance and she’s currently working at 50 percent of her usual pay because the restaurant, like many, is operating in a limited capacity. “Because I can’t give her shifts—we’re not even lunch—her income is less than half,” he says. “I’m trying to help people make up as much as I can with PPP money, but it’s impossible. She has to pay rent. And now a medical bill.” 

Okochi sent out an email this morning asking for financial assistance for his employee. In the email, he describes the suspect as a 40-year-old Black man:

I bear an extremely heavy heart announcing an unfortunate event that occurred last Friday. Two of our valued female employees were waiting for a ride home when a 40-year-old black man approached them and questioned if they are Chinese. One of them responded by saying her ethnicity was Thailand. Upon hearing the response, the man began physical assaulting her and accusing that Asians were the cause of COVID-19. The injuries are extensive as he physically assaulted her in the head and threw her to the concrete ground. She is currently in a stable state with a severe concussion but unable to work. Due to Covid-19, her salary was reduced 50% and she does not have health insurance. We are hoping to get your support so that we can assist her financially during this traumatic time. We know it is a very difficult time for most and understand there are a lot of angry and misinformed people still out there– please be cautious, safe and healthy at all times. If you are able to support her in any way, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/hate-crime-victim-support?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1 Thank you all so much for your love and support.

Some who received the message responded with negatively because Okochi included the race of the suspect. “People know me know I’m not a racist,” he says. “I respect everyone.” He says he would have included race no matter the circumstances. “If he was White, he was White. If he was Latino, he’s Latino.” 

Okochi says he spoke with his employee this morning and she’s starting to feel better. The GoFundMe he set up to cover her expenses has already surpassed its $3,000 goal.