The Clash at Carmine’s

An encounter over vaccine proof becomes more complex after claims of racial profiling

| 27 Sep 2021 | 11:23

Carmine’s Italian Restaurant — a quintessential New York eatery, known for its generous portion sizes and self-identified by the slogan “Like a Sunday Afternoon at Grandma’s” — has been a popular city staple for over 30 years. Like all other indoor dining facilities in New York City, Carmine’s is required to adhere to the recently imposed requirement — called the Key to NYC — which requires employees and patrons to show proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the FDA or WHO. On September 16, Carmine’s flagship location on the Upper West Side became the site of an altercation that saw the vaccine mandate at the heart of its onset.

Initial reports observed that, after being asked to provide vaccine documentation and subsequently refusing to do so, three would-be female patrons attacked a 24-year-old hostess by punching, scratching, and slapping her repeatedly. These reports were ostensibly corroborated by video footage of the attack, which also shows other employees of Carmine’s attempting to defuse the situation by breaking up the brawl. The women, who are from Texas, were later identified by police after being arrested and charged with assault and criminal mischief. They were given desk appearance tickets and ordered to come to court at a later date.

Numerous city officials spoke out about the melee, condemning the women’s behavior amidst a still-burgeoning pandemic. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called the assault “abhorrent” in a tweet, observing that “Restaurant workers are doing their jobs by keeping us safe — we need to keep them safe in return.” City Council Member Mark Levine shared a tweet published by Sherrilyn Ifill — lawyer, professor, and president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — that called the incident “absolutely outrageous and cannot be countenanced or others will try it.”

However, while initial accounts asserted that the fight saw the three Texas tourists as unwarranted aggressors, new information emerged that called these stories into question. On September 18, lawyers for both Carmine’s and the women asserted that all three women had, in fact, shown proof of vaccination upon seeking entry to the restaurant. Additionally, the three women were seated by the hostess after providing the necessary documentation. The issue arose when a group of men who were meant to join the women’s party arrived shortly after and were unable to provide proof. This account of the altercation was supported by security camera footage released by Carmine’s.

The new video was released at the behest of claims that the three women, who are Black, were racially profiled. Justin Moore, an attorney for one of the women, told the New York Times that “The hostess begins spouting out derogatory comments, and speaking with two of the women,” pointing to the claim that the hostess, who is Asian, directed racial slurs at the women. In a caption that accompanied an Instagram post about the event, Moore wrote “The proof is mounting that Carmine’s is a racist institution that hires people who are anti-Black. We can either address this, or shift blame to the Black ppl who have voiced their complaints. It’s your decision. But I’m going to choose to fight against racism.” Moore also added that the hostess herself had reacted violently, calling the situation “mutual combat.”

The allegations of racism led activists to take to the streets — on the evening of September 20, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York held a protest on the Upper West Side, directly outside of Carmine’s. The crowd, which garnered a sizable showing, could be heard chanting “Cancel Carmine’s.” During the protest, Hawk Newsome, Co-Founder of BLM of Greater New York addressed the vaccine mandate, saying “the problem is, with these mandates, Black people have a deep distrust for the government, especially when it comes to vaccinations ... so now they’re going to be penalized ... The story with the government and the vaccinations has changed from month to month ...What’s next?”

A lawyer who represents Carmine’s, Caroline Richmond, refuted claims that racism played a role in the clash, observing that “Nothing about this incident suggests race was an issue ... The idea that someone would become violent as an employee performs this necessary function is an anathema to New York, the hospitality industry and New Yorkers in general.”

According to a blog post on I Love the Upper West Side, Carmine’s owner Jeffrey Bank released the following statement addressing the altercation: “None of the attackers offered any reason for their attack. None of the hosts – all of whom are people of color – uttered a racial slur. None of the attackers mentioned anything about race to our managers, staff, or the police who arrested them, and the Texas criminal defense lawyer’s false assertion otherwise is a deeply cynical ploy to try to excuse wanton violence.”

As it stands, both sides are steadfast and unwavering in defense of their cases. The women’s court date, which is set for October 5, should illuminate further details about the situation.