Idaho community rallies around targeted refugee business

Jul 25th, 2017 | By | Category: Business Features

By Kristin Rodine/Idaho Statesman

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — What a difference a community makes.

When Salam Bunyan of Boise arrived at his Middle Eastern restaurant one morning last week, he was met by hateful graffiti featuring a swastika and the word “rapeugees.” The chalk message quickly hit local news sites.

Days later, when Bunyan arrived for The Goodness Land’s 11:30 a.m. opening, he found a young mother sitting in front of the restaurant’s door, writing “Unity” on the sidewalk in big, colorful letters.

“I’m fighting chalk with chalk,” Crystal Rose said while continuing her effort as her 5-year-old daughter, Ember, played nearby.

Customers and camera crews converged on Bunyan’s eatery for Friday’s lunch hour, passing and praising Rose’s artwork. One man, Scott Luke, dropped to his knees to add, in chalk, “God is love. We love you! We stand with you!” Another man sang “Give Peace a Chance” as he walked by.

Bunyan, too busy serving customers to stop for a full interview, said Rose’s artwork was a happy surprise. The positive message is totally in keeping with his overall experience in the Treasure Valley since he arrived as an Iraqi refugee in 2008, he said.

“This is something not new for Boise residents,” he said among a crush of well-wishers. “Always they help. That’s the beautiful thing about Boise. I love Boise.”

Bunyan’s restaurant was among a number of refugee-owned businesses displaced when fire gutted the Boise International Market in September 2015. It reopened in its new spot in late May 2016. Bunyan said at the time he felt like the full community had his back as he worked to regain his dream.

He still feels that way, he said Friday, basking in his customers’ affection.

Some people who showed up at The Goodness Land for shawarma and other fare Friday are regulars. Others came specifically to show solidarity by buying Bunyan’s food.

Luke and his wife, Anna, were there for the first time. Anna Luke sampled Bunyan’s food at a soccer clinic for refugees last year and loved it, but forgot the name of the restaurant, she said.

So the malicious graffiti artist, now sought by police, unintentionally did her a favor, she said.

“Now we know where it is,” she said. “Now, we’ll be regulars.”

The initial message, scrawled on the sidewalk by a young white man around 10 p.m. last Tuesday, featured an arrow pointing to the restaurant door with the words “rapeugees shop here.” Bunyan’s surveillance cameras captured the man’s image, and Boise police circulated the video last week in hopes of catching the culprit.

The video brought tips from the public, but no arrest as of last Friday afternoon, police said.

Detectives are investigating the incident as malicious harassment — Idaho’s hate crime law — based on a person’s race, color, nationality or religion. It is unclear whether it could be related to earlier race-themed vandalism at the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial or any other incidents, police said.

News of the hateful graffiti was the first message Rose saw on Facebook last Friday morning. A new resident of the neighborhood, she had never visited Bunyan’s restaurant until the day when she sat on a hot sidewalk crafting her chalk art.

“I couldn’t sit by and watch this happen,” she said, inviting others to grab a piece of chalk — she brought plenty — and join her.

“I think everybody just needs to rally around this guy and show him what Boise is about, and that’s about love and unity and just acceptance here.”

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