By Madina Toure
A video broadcast by CBS New York showing an alleged assault of a Korean senior by a McDonald’s at the end of December has prompted a boycott and calls for action from Korean-American community groups.
In the video, Korean patron James Jin Kim is allegedly seen trying to record an employee who he said refused to serve him at the McDonald’s Feb. 16. The employee is seen coming at him 30 seconds later with what looked like a broom, swinging the broom around and using it to smack the phone out of Kim’s hand. His attorney, Christine Bae, is suing McDonald’s for $10 million, according to CBS New York.
Christine Colligan, co-president of the Korean American Parents Association, organized a boycott of the McDonald’s on 40-18 Main St. in downtown Flushing Dec. 29. The Korean American Association of Queens, the Korean American United Seniors Boaters Association and Sarangpang (Living Room in Korean), an organization founded in response to a McDonald’s at Northern and Parson Boulevards calling the police on a group of seniors congregating at the restaurant in January, also participated.
The boycott was held about 10 feet from the restaurant. The participants gathered around peacefully and held a news conference at which they stated their demands in Korean and English and why they were boycotting the business on 40-18 Main St.
The boycotters only learned of the incident Dec. 28, when a video was released showing the alleged assault, Colligan said.
“He should have solved the problem for the customer — not come out and hit,” Colligan said. “That’s like a weapon against a vulnerable senior citizen and especially to the customer and we cannot believe that it happened right in the heart of Flushing.”
She called on the McDonald’s Corporation to provide its employees with cultural sensitivity training and said her organization would write a letter to the corporation.
The employee, Rooshi Sajjad, 50, was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon, attempted assault and harassment, according to a criminal complaint from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office.
Sajjad pleaded guilty and received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal Aug. 6, according to a Queens DA spokeswoman. The adjournment will go into effect Feb. 5 as long as Sajjad has not been arrested again.
Between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., Sajjad allegedly walked around the counter during a verbal dispute with Kim, said “No video taping,” picked up a mop and hit Kim’s right hand with the mop, causing significant pain to his right hand, the complaint said.
Kim’s lawyer called the incident “egregious” and noted the presence of children at the time of the assault.
“If you see the video, three minutes after the assault, you see children leaving the McDonald’s and so to have this type of assault take place in front of our children I think is much more egregious than anything else,” Bae said.
She said the lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Queens in April, according to the New York Times, is currently in the discovery stage, which involves each side asking questions and requesting documents or information concerning the case.
Bae said Kim does not want to speak with media outlets.
Luigi Solimeo, McDonald’s franchisee, said the company cannot speak on the matter given that it is pending litigation.
“Our family-owned restaurant business has proudly served the Flushing community for over 20 years and remains committed to ensuring a safe and welcoming environment for all our guests and employees,” Solimeo said in an emailed statement. “As this is a legal matter, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.”
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), who brokered an agreement that extended seating hours for a group of Korean seniors at the McDonald’s on Northern and Parson Boulevards, said he was concerned about the contents of the video but that he could not comment further given that the incident is pending litigation.
“If there’s a trend of hostility toward one specific type of demographic of seniors, then I think we have a stronger case to go to McDonald’s and try to figure this out,” Kim said. “If this is an isolated incident involving one individual, I don’t think calling for a boycott of the entire business is the most responsible thing to do.”
He said that he spoke with the McDonald’s owner prior to the boycott and that they are trying to determine how to proceed on the matter once the litigation is resolved.
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) declined to comment.
Kwanghee Kim, founder of the Korean American Family Service Center, said she supports the boycott.
“If I watch someone hitting their customer, I wouldn’t go there, personally,” Kim said. “So you cannot blame the people for boycotting.”
Although Colligan has not met Kim, she said the community groups’ concerns about the treatment of elderly people in general.
“It doesn’t matter if I know him, friend of mine, whatever,” she said. “It’s got nothing to do with that. It doesn’t have to be Korean. Any elderly cannot be treated like that.”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.