Mariia Bush stands with her two daughters, Madison, 9, and Avery, 6, during the Juneteenth Protest Against Racism and Hate on Saturday in downtown Sequim. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Mariia Bush stands with her two daughters, Madison, 9, and Avery, 6, during the Juneteenth Protest Against Racism and Hate on Saturday in downtown Sequim. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Alleged racial incident draws 140 to rally

Police continue investigation as alleged victim plans not to press charges

SEQUIM — About 140 people rallied in downtown Sequim on Saturday evening after a dispute over a parking space turned into an allegedly racist attack involving a knife and a pipe.

The protest, called the Juneteenth Protest Against Racism and Hate, was at 6 p.m. at the corner of Washington Street and Sequim Avenue.

The rally, which police staffed heavily and reported was peaceful, was organized by Sequim Protests Against Racism, Etc., (SPARE) after a disturbance on June 12 in the alley among several businesses, including Blondie’s Plate on Second Avenue and Sequim Kabob House on Washington Street.

The co-owner of the Kabob House was unable to move her car out of a parking space after another vehicle had been parked too closely to it. That set off an argument that reportedly involved one man pulling a knife, another brandishing a pipe and racial slurs against the owners of the Palestinian restaurant.

Sequim police are investigating the June 12 incident as possible malicious harassment, or a hate crime, after they received a 9-1-1 call at nearly 8 p.m. June 12.

Beyond saying that they take the incident seriously and are following all leads, they have declined to provide details until a report is made to the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

During the rally, the co-owner of the Kabob House who had been in the trapped car was interviewed in her restaurant. She did not attend the rally.

Amalia Awawda said that, whatever the results of the police investigation, she does not plan to press charges

“We love Sequim, and what happened doesn’t change how we feel about it,” she said.

“All five of us (her husband and three sons) work at our businesses, and we just want to focus on work and the future,” she said.

Her family moved to Sequim 13 years ago from California, where her sons were born, and opened the Sequim Kabob House in 2017 to serve authentic Palestinian food.

Since the previous Saturday, she said the response has been “so beautiful” with cards, flowers, hugs and words of encouragement.

“I tell them that the good is overshadowing the bad,” Amalia said.

She said her son Adam’s social media account, written soon after the incident, was correct. He had written that his mother’s vehicle was blocked in Blondie’s Plate’s parking lot by an unnamed employee of Blondie’s Plate. The employee “started laughing at her and making fun of her while watching her attempt to back out of the parking lot,” he wrote.

He said his father (Jim) asked the employees to move the vehicle. They went inside and another unnamed man, whom Blondie’s Plate staff say does not work there, came out with a camera behind him. Adam Awawda wrote that the man “turned it into a screaming match” and “then pulled a knife on me and my dad and pointed it at us telling us to get off the property.”

He said the man called them “immigrants,” “telling us we’re in America now so we have to ‘follow his words,’” and “get out of his country and come back when we are citizens (which we are).”

He added the man made fun of his father’s accent, told him to speak English, and uttered more racial comments.

Courtney Thomas, founder of SPARE, said some at Saturday’s rally originally had planned to march to the restaurant but opted not to for safety reasons.

Thomas said the group wanted to create a safe place to share and she’s proud of Sequim for “not putting up with racism and holding people accountable.”

At the rally, a handful of former Blondie’s Plate employees criticized the owner, Josh Armstrong.

They included Maggie McDougal, former owner Kim McDougal’s daughter, who said she was saddened about the impact the incident has had on the business’ reputation.

“It’s just really shocking,” she said. “It’s absolutely nothing my mother would have allowed or stood for.”

Other former employees said that, under Armstrong, racist, homophobic/transphobic and sexist phrases had been used.

At about the same time as the rally, a social media post appeared online from Blondie’s Plate employee Tana Villella.

“You wanna know what really happened at Blondie’s Plate in Sequim last Saturday? Me!.” she wrote on her Facebook page.

“I’m the one who pulled in ridiculously close to an illegally parked vehicle that had been there on two previous occasions in my spot next to the dumpster.

“I had no idea who the vehicle belonged to.”

She said she laughed at the driver of the other car’s efforts to leave, then went back to work.

“There were no words exchanged between us or any staff members,” Villella said. “There were no slurs of any kind directed at the family by any employee of Blondie’s Plate!”

She added that parking too close “was a mean-spirited thing to do! But I can be that way sometimes. Parking too close to someone is not a crime!”

“To call me racist is comical.”

She wrote that the incident has become “a vehicle for something else entirely and an excuse to crucify a local business owner,” and that employees there are not racist but “guilty by association.”

To help calm issues from the incident, Armstrong said Saturday he’s canceled his other business’ construction contracts for the week. He also closed Blondie’s Plate on Saturday night to “prevent any hostilities.”

He said he’s trying to be positive and that if the protesters had marched over, he would have considered speaking to them.

Armstrong said the incident wasn’t a racial event and that “officers need to have time to investigate that.”

“It’s in their hands,” he said.

“What transpired after the (parking situation) was a threatening situation that got de-escalated without someone getting hurt.”

As he stated in an earlier online post in which he apologized for employees’ actions, Armstrong said he’s “not a racist person and I’m being labeled unfairly.

“I have no negativity towards (the Awawdas) and we have an ethnically diverse crowd that works here,” he said.

His goal for the situation is for people to “be less divided and spend less time with negativity,” he said. “It never brings positivity.

“And I want people to think about their actions.”

In his earlier post, Armstrong had described an unidentified man who he said waved an iron pipe at one of the Blondie’s employees. Awawda family members told the Peninsula Daily News the pipe was not intended to be violent towards people but rather to break the neighboring vehicle’s window, if needed, to move it so Amalia could move her vehicle.

Thomas and others promoted a hashtag to boycott the restaurant, saying that speaking with dollars holds businesses accountable.

“There are too many businesses we can give our money to,” said Dr. Kelley Temple at the protest. “I like their Brussels sprouts, but not enough to support their business.”

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].

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