When Wasabi’s Bistro just outside of Homer was vandalized with a racist message sometime between last Wednesday night and Thursday morning, some in the Homer community were shocked. Others weren’t. But most were supportive of the restaurant owners, and showed it by filling the place up for the next few nights.
The Alaska State Troopers are investigating the crime after the restaurant’s owners, Colt Belmonte, who is white, and his wife Dali Frazier, who is black, discovered the graffiti last Thursday morning.
By Thursday night, the community had a plan for rallying around Belmonte, Frazier and their family. Signs of acceptance were put up outside the building and a few other area businesses posted to their Facebook accounts encouraging the public to give their patronage to Wasabi’s.
“I don’t typically use our facebook (sic) page to try to send business to other restaurants, but this post is the exception,” read a status posted by Alice’s Champagne Palace. “I encourage (everybody) to go have a nice dinner or a drink (at) Wasabi’s.”
And that’s what people did.
Looking over a menu, John Mahoney said he had been at Wasabi’s earlier in the evening the night the graffiti happened.
“I have a small business in town,” he said. “They support me and I support them.”
Mahoney said that while he knows people have strong opinions, he was surprised by the racist message.
“To have something painted on a building like that, I was surprised,” he said.
Hayley Walters and Joseph Lapp sat at a table with their 2-year-old daughter, Vida. Walters had gone up to Frazier just minutes before with a bouquet of flowers, and said Vida made the restaurant owners a card.
“I know that it’s hard to be a person of color in this town,” Walters said. “It’s really unfortunate that this happened, and we wanted to support them the best we could.”
Unlike others, Lapp, who moved to the area in 2005, was not shocked by the display of racism in Homer.
“I’ve always thought that Homer is a very racist community,” he said. “… It’s often quiet if you’re not a person of color because it doesn’t impact you. Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s horrible, but at the same time, I think this is a dangerous and scary place to be for some (people).”
Melody Barrett, a friend of Belmonte and Frazier’s, sat at the bar with a drink. She described her friends as a great couple who “do so much for the community.”
“They’re just as much a part of Homer as anyone else is,” Barrett said. “And so, whether you like a business or you don’t like a business, it still isn’t any excuse … for racist behavior, negative behavior, hurtful behavior. It’s not.”
Barrett said racism is a condition of their world we live in, and that it always has been.
“But it would be really nice if we could grow up,” she said.
At a table in the corner, Cameron Forbes, who lives just down the road from the restaurant, pulled up a chair with couple Alex and Cindy Koplin.
“I was just shocked,” Cindy Koplin said. “It was just such a bold, hateful statement that I just was so surprised to see in this loving town.”
Alex Koplin said his family has been frequenting the venue since before it was called Wasabi’s.
“It made me very angry, very upset,” he said of the graffiti.
Forbes said he heard about it through friends.
“Part of me was shocked, part of me was hurt,” he said. “Very hurt. But then again, I also recognized it as something that’s happening in other places as well.”
Forbes said dealing with the racist vandalism is twofold. On the one hand, people may be shocked, but on the other, he said this is something familiar that people have seen before.
“To the extent that we know what this is, I think … that’s why we’re here this evening,” Forbes said. “To say that we know what this is, and this really has to go in a different direction.”
At the Homer City Council meeting held Tuesday, March 26, Council member Donna Aderhold spoke about the incident during her closing comments. She said it has given the community an opportunity in which people can take time to reflect on their own biases. It’s something the community needs to address, she said.
“We all have them,” she said. “… It’s just a time for self reflection as well.”
The vandalism is currently being investigated as a criminal mischief crime for damage to property, according to Sgt. Daniel Cox of the Anchor Point trooper post. He said that if new evidence points to any additional crimes, they could be added.
“We look for evidence, we look for any video or witnesses,” Cox said.
Specifically, Cox said troopers want to know if anyone was at Wasabi’s over the course of Wednesday night.
“Basically we’re just asking if anybody saw a person or a vehicle at Wasabi’s between 11:30 p.m. last night to 7 (a.m.) this morning, to contact us and hopefully we can match up a person or a vehicle that was there and talk to them,” he said.
Cox said the investigation is ongoing and that troopers will publish any additional updates as they come.
According to Jill Burnham, who is the Evening Programs Coordinator for the Kachemak Bay Campus, local businesses are also coming together to help.
“Local businesses including The Grog Shop, Alice’s Champagne Palace and the Homer Bookstore are coordinating to create a reward for the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible which will be managed and administered through Peninsula Crime Stoppers,” she wrote in an email.
Peninsula Crime Stoppers is a nonprofit on the Kenai Peninsula that coordinates with law enforcement, the media and the general community to provide a flow of information to help in the arrest of criminals. The graffiti is listed as “crime of the week.”
“If you have information about this crime, you can report (anonymously if you like) by calling the PCS hotline at 283-TIPS (8477), visiting the website www.peninsulacrimestoppers.com, or downloading the P3 TIPS app on your smartphone,” Burnham wrote.