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Brooklyn nail salon brawl over eyebrow wax stirs racially tinged protests

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The now-viral video shows a nail salon in chaos — a loose flip-flop on the floor, manicure stations shoved to the side. Several Asian women in smocks grab at a black woman, trying to get a grip on the straps of her tank top. One sprays her with what looks like a bottle of acetone nail-polish remover.

When the black woman breaks free, a barefoot Asian woman in denim shorts raises what looks like the handle of a mop or broomstick. She brings it down onto the black woman’s back, repeatedly, as the woman flees the salon.

The source of the dispute? A botched eyebrow wax, according to news reports.

By Monday night, the video had racked up hundreds of thousands of views. Two women had been charged with assault. And protesters had picketed outside the nail salon, accusing the Asian-owned business of disrespecting residents of the predominantly black neighborhood.

According to News12 in Brooklyn, Christina Thomas, 21, went to New Red Apple Nails on Friday night for a manicure, pedicure and eyebrow wax. Both she and the salon’s owners agree that she wasn’t happy with how the eyebrow wax turned out.

Exactly what happened next is disputed. Thomas says she refused to pay for the eyebrow wax, News12 reports. But the salon contends that she also refused to pay for the pedicure.

At that point, manager Michael Lin told NBC4 New York, employees blocked the door.

“She said she didn’t like it and doesn’t want to pay for nothing,” Lin is quoted as saying. “I said: ‘Sit down, let me call the police. If the police say you can go, you pay nothing. [If the] police say you pay for the pedicure, then you pay for the pedicure. No eyebrow, no problem.’ ”

That same night, a woman named Mercy Maduka posted footage of the fight on Facebook. “So I’m at the nail salon and they [expletive] up a lady eyebrow and she refused to pay then a fight broke outttt,” she wrote, including the salon’s address.

In a follow-up post, she responded to commenters asking why she hadn’t tried to intervene, saying that the cops had already arrived and that she was worried about her safety.

“I’m not trying to die on my bday or go to jail,” she wrote.

It’s unclear how the dispute turned physical. Surveillance footage obtained by the New York Daily News and other media outlets begins in the middle of the confrontation, when a woman in a manicurist’s smock is already pointing what looks like a broom handle at two black women. The black women and the nail salon employees start pushing and shoving one another, causing the scene to devolve into chaos as one manicurist picks up a chair and begins swinging it. During the ensuing fistfight, the woman now clutching the broom handle is knocked to the ground but doesn’t let go of her grip.

Two of the women in the video have since been arrested. According to News12, Hiuyue Zheng is facing charges of assault, menacing and criminal possession of a weapon. Thomas, whom Zheng allegedly attacked with a broomstick, is also being charged with assault. Prosecutors are reviewing additional evidence and may later alter those charges, the station reported.

Police told Pix11 that Zheng had been hospitalized and had injuries on her face and body. Thomas declined medical attention, the station reported.

According to the New York Daily News, police are also looking to arrest a second employee who allegedly threw liquid on the customers.

Sandwiched between a West Indian grocery store and a sneaker store, New Red Apple Nails is located on the edge of East Flatbush, a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. Census data shows that East Flatbush is 86 percent black and 1 percent Asian.

The incident has inflamed racial tensions and prompted calls for black residents to spend their money elsewhere.

“I’m expecting justice, but most of all I’m expecting black people to learn that when these business don’t respect you, you don’t spend your money with them,” one protester, Tionna Smalls, told ABC7 New York.

“There is no respect for people in this neighborhood,” Gavin Gibbs, a 49-year-old East Flatbush resident, said to the New York Daily News. “Anytime a store doesn’t respect us, we’re going to shut it down. We will come, we will picket it, and we’ll do whatever we have to close your store down.”

On Monday, protesters gathered outside the salon, encouraging neighborhood residents to boycott the business. “Black $$$ Matter,” one sign read.

Live-streamed footage shows police officers standing guard as protesters chant: “No more! No more!”

“Until they open a soul food restaurant in Chinatown, we ain’t eating over there,” one woman tells the crowd.

In another video from the protests, a man waves a pan-African flag over the police barricades. “Every one of these stores don’t like black people,” he says. “They take our money and run.”

At one point, an Asian man steps outside the salon and is booed. Police officers guide him back inside.

According to the New York Post, one protester screamed, “Where is ICE?” in an apparent reference to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Similar comments appeared on a live stream of the protests taking place outside the salon.

“Imigration needs 2 b called that’s it,” a woman named Erica Moss wrote.

“Where is ICE check for INS status!” Marison Goico Moya posted, referring to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

According to News12, the salon closed for the rest of the day.