DOWNTOWN — A teen who had a chair thrown at him by the manager of a Downtown poke spot is asking for an apology from his attacker — who admitted on camera he became hostile because the teen was black.
On Jan. 2, 18-year-old John “Kyle” Johnson said he stopped at Poke Poké, 118 S. Wabash Ave. when someone waved him inside. When he walked in, Johnson was immediately confronted by the restaurant’s manager Matthew Fezzey, according to a news release from Chicago activist and former mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green.
Green has had a long-standing relationship with Johnson, having known him since he was nine years old.
Fezzey allegedly yelled at Johnson and then threw a chair at the bewildered teenager, who recorded their interaction outside the Poke shop after he left.
“I was surprised I got hit at first. …I wanted to cry. …I’m angry because I just got hit with a chair but it’s like ‘what should I do?’” Johnson said during a Wednesday news conference.
In a video captured by Johnson, Fezzey said he was on edge when the teen walked into the shop because “two days ago, not trying to be racist, two black guys robbed two people right here.”
Johnson called the police shortly after he was hit with the chair, which Fezzey admitted to throwing on video.
“When you guys came in here, I just get really f—-ing defensive,” Fezzey said, referring to Johnson and two of his friends.
Johnson interjected saying, “Sir but you threw a chair at me. I’m not those guys.”
After the incident, Johnson reached out to Green, his mentor, and sent him the video. It was then uploaded to Facebook and on his Instagram page where it has been viewed more than 24,000 times.
Green said on Instagram Johnson was “almost in tears” when he called him about the incident. He said the manager should be fired and called for racial bias training at the shop.
The restaurant’s manager is currently suspended and a police investigation is pending, according to The Washington Post.
Johnson’s story has exploded nationally, with people calling on the restaurant to fire Fezzey, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a statement posted on Instagram Tuesday, the poke shop’s owners issued an apology.
“First, we want to be absolutely clear that we do not tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind,” the statement read. “Diversity, inclusion, and compassion are principles we are deeply about, and those values embody who we are as a Chicago-bred, minority-owned and operated establishment.
“We are all part of the Chicago community, we will learn from this incident, and we will continue to promote our core beliefs of kindness, compassion and respect to everyone.”
Outside the restaurant Wednesday afternoon, Green, Johnson and his attorney Anish Parikh addressed reporters and called for a boycott until Fezzey is fired.
“We are boycotting Poke Poké until these things happen,” Green said. “We are expecting that people do not spend their money here.”
While there was initially talk of a lawsuit, Parikh said over email Wednesday afternoon that Johnson is not pursuing legal action against Poke Poké for the time being “as we will first attempt to resolve this issue outside of court.”
Despite this, Johnson does not believe Fezzey’s apology to him was sincere.
“When I was listening to him apologize, he still was saying a lot of cussing words. It sounded like he was just trying to just cover himself,” Johnson said. “I believe that Matthew should be held accountable for his actions. I believe that stuff like this happens to people like me every day.”