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Was race an issue in shoplifting incident at Charlotte beauty supply store?

Over the weekend, the incident flared into a racial protest when African American community leaders and some customers showed up at Missha Beauty Supply and called for a boycott. This came after cellphone video showed the Asian manager kicking and choking an accused shoplifter, a black woman.
Over the weekend, the incident flared into a racial protest when African American community leaders and some customers showed up at Missha Beauty Supply and called for a boycott. This came after cellphone video showed the Asian manager kicking and choking an accused shoplifter, a black woman. Roland Wilkerson

Shelly Young, a sales person at Missha Beauty supply store, stood near the door Monday offering customers a cheery “Welcome to Missha” and alternately admonishing an outside protester with a stern lecture: “You are banned from these premises.”

As she explained to a reporter: “No one’s allowed to come and harass our customers.”

Young and her fellow Missha employees said they’ve received threats over the phone and in person since Thursday when the manager of the west Charlotte beauty supply store, Sung Ho Lim, attacked a would-be shoplifter.

Over the weekend, the incident flared into a racial protest when African American community leaders and some customers showed up at the store and called for a boycott. This came after cellphone video showed Lim, an Asian man, kicking and choking the accused shoplifter, a black woman.

NAACP President Corine Mack said Monday she met with Lim, who “admitted that he did assault the woman. We have it on tape.…This young lady was the victim. Even if she had stolen a $3.99 pack of eyelashes, the physical assault she had to endure was not the way to handle that.”

Lim, who employees said no longer works at the Wilkinson Boulevard store, filed a report with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department alleging “strong-arm robbery” by a woman, about 25 and wearing a pink hoodie. The report says that, when the woman attempted to leave the store, Lim blocked the exit and asked her to show him what was in her bag. The report says the woman refused “and a struggle ensued” before she fled in a silver Dodge sedan.

Police said Monday that “the suspect has not been identified or arrested.” It describes Lim as “the victim,” and says he has not been charged.

But Mack said Lim should be arrested for assault and should also apologize to the woman, once she is identified, and to the African American community.

“This lady was the victim,” Mack said. “If that’s not how the CMPD sees it, that’s a problem for the NAACP. This woman was punched, kicked and choked.”

Mack’s assessment is based on the cellphone video that was obtained by WBTV. It depicts a woman telling Lim, “Check my bag. I don’t have anything.” Then Lim and the woman can be seen shoving each other, at which point Lim said, “You hit me.” Subsequently, the video shows that Lim kicks the woman, knocks her to the ground and puts her in a choke hold.

When WBTV showed the video to Lim, he confirmed that it was him, but said it failed to capture the woman in the act of stealing. “This is my fault,” Lim said. “I have to take the whole video and give it to the police.”

WBTV said Lim met with protesters on Sunday and apologized. “I don’t know, it just happened. I went crazy,” Lim said. “No matter what the reason, I feel very sorry to her and to them.”

Missha employees said Monday that the store’s security footage has since been provided to CMPD and shows that the suspect was shoplifting. They said the woman had paid for one item but was planning to take others, including eyelashes, lip gloss and jewelry, that fell away during the struggle with Lim.

ShellyYoung said Missha’s owner, who lives in Chicago, terminated Lim after the incident. She said she has worked for Lim for more than two years at the store which sells hair extensions, wigs and other accessories.

She defended Lim as a humble man. “I think it just got a little bit out of hand.”

Young, 21, said several of the beauty store’s employees are African Americans and that the store is a diverse and welcoming workplace. She said the incident was not about Asians versus blacks. She and another employee said the situation has been misconstrued by people on social media, where the photo of another Asian man was represented as that of Lim. CMPD issued a notice Monday explaining that the photo being circulated of the other Asian man was not related to the Missha Beauty store incident.

“It’s not a race thing,” said a Missha Beauty employee, who gave his name only as Drew because he is worried about retribution. He said the store disconnected its phone Saturday after receiving threats that had an anti-immigrant tone.

He said one caller screamed, “Y’all need to go the f--- back where you’re from. I said ‘I’m from Charlotte.’ I went to North Meck (high school). I’ve lived here since I was 7.”

One regular customer, Teresa Mosely, told WBTV she wouldn’t shop at the store anymore after seeing the video. “When he was choking her, he was almost choking her to death. She was gasping for breath...”

Another customer, an African American woman who gave her first name only as Patti, said she will continue shopping there.

“I feel like he did go a little too far,” she said, referring to Lim’s actions. “But he’s got a right to protect his things.” She said some in the media and the protesters are “trying to make this to be something it’s not.”

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch

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