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California woman charged with spitting on Asian American man in racist attack: ‘It’s very targeted vitriol’

Karen Marie Inman, 39, is charged with a hate crime and battery for allegedly spitting on an Asian American man in Mountain View, Calif. (istock)

An Asian American man was sitting outside a restaurant in downtown Mountain View, Calif., last month when a White woman suddenly approached and spat on him, police said. Then she allegedly told him to go back “where you came from” and called him a racist slur.

On Monday, the woman, identified by police as Karen Marie Inman, 39, was charged with a hate crime and battery for allegedly attacking the stranger, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced in a statement.

“Our community stands together against any hatred and racism against the Asian Pacific Islander community,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in the statement. “It is ignorant. It is wrong. And when it is criminal — those who are charged will face the full power of my Office to hold them accountable.”

The incidents come amid a recent wave of racist attacks and harassment against Asian Americans, with many advocates linking the trend to former president Donald Trump’s rhetoric blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic. Attacks have targeted several seniors, including an 84-year-old man who died days after he was shoved in the Bay Area. Last month, a Filipino man was slashed with a box cutter aboard a New York City train.

Three Asian American medical providers on the front lines spoke with The Post about the racial discrimination they faced early in the pandemic. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Attacks on Asian Americans during pandemic renew criticism that U.S. undercounts hate crimes

The incident in Mountain View began on Feb. 13, police said, when Inman walked into Easy Foods Company, a grocery store in downtown Mountain View, a city of about 82,000 near San Jose.

Inman, whom police described as homeless, grabbed a bag of chips, a can of spam, a scarf and other items totaling about $20, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Sheryl Leung told The Washington Post. Then she allegedly told the store owners, an Asian couple, that she “did not have to pay” for the items “because of their ethnicity” and walked out.

The couple, who said they called the police so the woman would no longer access the store, declined to press charges, Leung told The Post.

Minutes later, police spotted Inman walking downtown and detained her. While police interviewed her, they received a second call about a woman matching her description who had yelled at two patrons at a nearby restaurant.

Earlier that day, the witness who called to report the incident told police, said Inman had walked to the table of a 36-year-old Asian man having lunch with a friend and yelled “racial epithets” before spitting “in his direction.”

Luna Marrero, a tech worker who was eating at the restaurant that day, told KTVU she was the only diner who witnessed the incident that afternoon who defended the Asian American man.

“The least I could do is stand up for this man, speak up, and say something,” Marrero told the local station. “Be an active bystander because nobody in the world, in the United States deserves to be treated this way.”

The victim, who hasn’t been identified, also declined to press charges against Inman, so police let her go.

But authorities said the Mountain View Police Department continued investigating the incidents and later brought the case to the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office, which chose to press charges for the alleged spitting incident.

“There’s a big difference between somebody taking under $20 worth of items from a shop where the shop owners don’t want to press charges compared to somebody spitting body fluids on a stranger in the middle of a pandemic,” Leung told The Post. “One is so much more serious than the other. In that case, it’s very targeted vitriol.”

Inman was arrested on March 5, after police were dispatched to a convenience store because she had allegedly attempted to steal candy and ice cream. She was booked into the Santa Clara County Jail on suspicion of petty theft, robbery and two counts of violation of civil rights by force or threat, and appeared in court for the battery and hate crime charges on Monday.

If convicted of both charges, Inman could face more than a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. It’s not clear whether she has an attorney yet.

“This case is both disheartening and disturbing. Mountain View is a vibrant community in many ways thanks to the diversity that exists here,” Mountain View Police Chief Chris Hsiung said in a statement. “Hate crimes have not and will not be tolerated in Mountain View and as this case demonstrates, we take these crimes seriously and will investigate them to the fullest extent.”