UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan -- About 30 to 40 protesters gathered outside Carmine's Italian Restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side Monday evening amid allegations by three Houston women charged with assaulting a hostess over a proof of vaccination dispute that they were racially profiled.
The demonstration came as the eatery released new videos of the incident, albeit without audio, that owners say shows a clearer picture of what happened.
The footage shows the women walking up behind the hostess and surrounding her before the scuffle broke out.
Carmine's owner Jeffrey Bank released an updated statement in response to the accusations that one of his employees made racial slurs that provoked the women to fight.
"Three women brutally attacked our hosts without provocation, got arrested and charged for their misconduct, and then, over the last several days, had their lawyer falsely and grossly misrepresent their acts of wanton violence in a cynical attempt to try to excuse the inexcusable," he said. "My team members work too hard to serve our guests, work too hard to comply with New York's vaccination requirements, and still suffer too much from the attack for me to allow these false statements to stand."
Bank said the clips show the sequence of events, with the group of three women first showing up and showing proof of vaccination, followed by a group of three men who did the same.
They were then seated, before a third group of men arrived but were unable to show proof. When they couldn't be seated, the host went inside to tell the rest of the party.
All seated guests are then shown exiting, when words are exchanged between the group and hostess. A manager comes out and escorts the group back into the restaurant.
As they are being escorted back inside, Bank said the hostess leaned in and said, "enjoy your meal," at which point he says she was surrounded and attacked.
Cell phone video of the incident shows the chaos outside Carmine's, and screaming can be heard as the women tussle and other members of the group and staff jump in to drag them away.
The three women, Dr. Kaeita Nkeenge Rankin, her niece Tyonnie Keyshay Rankin and her assistant Sally Rechelle Lewis, all of the Houston area, are demanding their charges be dropped and the hostess be fired, and their attorney, Justin Moore, said the newly released videos were edited to hide the racism in an effort of crisis management.
"What was originally reported as these three women fighting over not having proof of vaccine has morphed, by Carmine's design, into a random fight that had no provocation from their employee in question," he said. "Carmine's has failed to release (the full) footage and continues their trend of sweeping their employee's racist and egregious behavior under the rug."
Moore said the group was prepared to eat elsewhere, but another employee told them to come back, which he says the hostess did not like. He contends that the hostess suggested the vaccination cards were fake, spoke condescendingly to the group, and used a racial slur before lunging at the women.
He said one of the women in the group took the hostess' actions as an attempted assault and pushed her, and they say the hostess then pushed back.
"The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly prohibits restaurants from refusing service to citizens based on race, color, religion, or national origin," Moore said. "For a restaurant to arbitrarily decide if a person's vaccination ID is real or not and use it as a proxy for their violent racism has no place in our society. And then, to arrest these women after they were being attacked further adds insult to injury. My firm seeks to help these women navigate such a hurtful and embarrassing incident."
They also claim the hostess' injuries were sustained when she was being restrained by other staff members.
"News reports, fueled by a false narrative put out by Carmine's, wrongly suggest that Dr. Rankin, her niece, and Ms. Lewis attempted to forcefully violate the vaccination ID policy that has been implemented in New York," Moore said. "This could not be further from the truth. These three women each had proof of vaccination that was questioned arbitrarily and unjustifiably by Carmine's. According to witnesses, the hostess refused service to these women and got hostile with them. The injuries that she received were incurred by her being physically restrained by other staff at Carmine's after she was called out for racial discrimination, which she took offense to. Unfortunately, but not so uncommon, these Black women were arrested and humiliated for the discrimination by someone who is non-Black."
Carmine's released the following statement denying the accusations:
Last week's violence against our staff had nothing to do with race, despite a Texas criminal defense lawyer's false assertions to the contrary. Three of our hosts who are respectively Black, Latinx, and Asian American women did their best to welcome a large party while enforcing New York's vaccination requirement for indoor dining. We require that every guest show evidence of vaccination to eat inside. Unfortunately, some male members of the party were unable to provide vaccination proof and so could not enter the restaurant. Three female guests in the party who had shown proof of vaccination and been welcomed into the restaurant without issue then launched an entirely unprovoked, brutal attack on our hosts, one of whom continues to suffer from a concussion.
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.
We are focused on keeping our employees safe as they continue to enforce New York's vaccine mandates, and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated. We are also very grateful for all of the support from our community and the City, which has been incredibly touching for our staff.
The women were given desk appearance tickets on charges of assault and disorderly conduct.
"Assaulting a restaurant worker for doing their job is abhorrent and must be punished," said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. "We're calling on the city and state of New York to immediately increase penalties for assaulting restaurant workers in New York City in conjunction with enforcement of COVID-19 protocols."