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Post Falls restaurant to take down racist COVID-19 message after speaking with Asian advocacy group

The Spokane Chinese Association spoke with owner Raci Erdem after KREM 2's story aired Sunday night.

POST FALLS, Idaho — A Post Falls restaurant owner said he will take down his racist sign after speaking with an Asian advocacy group.

The Spokane and Idaho Chinese Associations condemned it, but said they are feeling grateful to have connected and used the story as a teaching moment. 

"Restaurants & bars don't sell Kung Flu, only happiness," the sign reads. 

KREM 2 ran a story on the sign Sunday night.

Some groups and political leaders, including President Donald Trump, have used the racist term to refer to COVID-19. It insinuates that Asian Americans are responsible for the spread of the virus. Asian-American groups have said the term and language like it has perpetuated hate crimes in America.

This message was posted on a sign outside of The Oval Office, a Mediterranean restaurant owned by Turkish immigrant Raci Erdem. He said the sign was meant as a joke but Asian community members in the Inland Northwest say messages like this one are dangerous. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, former Spokane Chinese Association (SCA) President Sam Song said he has seen a marked increase in anti-Asian hate crimes or incidents.

"It's setting up a tone that it's OK to say things like this," he added. "It is not OK."

Ping Ping and Bo Wen, other former SCA presidents, agreed with Song. Ping said the sign's message is absolutely unacceptable and Erdem's calling it a joke makes her pain feel invalidated.

"It's dismissing," Ping said. "It just means that he knows that he said something wrong and then he wants to escape from that."

The group said this type of rhetoric causes others to think this language is acceptable, which is frightening for Wen.

"I now feel we definitely need to do something to protect us and to to do the right thing," Wen said. "We have to say something and let our voice be heard that we don't like this being treated in this way."

Erdem said he did not mean harm by putting out the sign.

"Everybody will try to be angry with each other so really we don't care," Erdem previously said in response. "There was nothing offensive or disrespectful to Chinese citizens or Chinese American people."

Wen said his disappointment comes from the fact that Erdem is also an immigrant. They all came to the United States to start a new life. 

"Maybe it's just the lack of education and awareness of this issue," he said. "If he was ever treated that way, he probably wouldn't ever do that."

Yong Gao, who serves as Idaho Chinese Organization president, said she believed the sign was posted out of naiveté.

"I believe that this man may only have misguided views," Gao said. "The Chinese community in Idaho is proud to be a role model community where our members are hardworking people who value family, education and responsibility to society."

Both the Spokane and Idaho Chinese Associations are asking for apologies from the restaurant owner. 

Erdem likely will not face any criminal consequences for the sign. The Post Falls Police Department said the the sign would fall into a gray area because it is morally reprehensible, but Erdem's right to freedom of speech legally allows the language since it does not incite violence. 

Although there would be no criminal consequences, police say it could get brought up to Post Falls City Hall and Erdem could suffer civil penalties.