Hate Crimes on the Rise

A look at the recent racially motivated hate crimes against South Asians in the United States

The Context

Over the past several months there has been a pervasive rise of hate crimes afflicting the United States. According to CNN.com, nationwide incidents of reported hate crimes have risen 6% and the Southern Poverty Law Center counted 867 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the United States in the 10 days after the November 8 election alone.

This growing trend has the frightful potential of becoming an epidemic. One that is now shining a spotlight on an often overlooked segment of the population. In the past few months, multiple hate crimes against Indian Americans have grabbed our attention. And now that they have it, shame on us if we let our attention fade from this most serious of issues. We cannot stand by while this evil seed takes root and grows into a forest of racism. We must take a stand now, or forever hold our peace.

The Crimes

On February 20th, 32 year old Srinivas Kuchibhotla was murdered in a bar in Olathe, Kansas simply because he was brown. His friend and co-worker, Alok Madasani, 32, was also shot and injured, again, simply because he was brown. The alleged murderer, Adam W. Purinton, 51, is said to have shouted “get out of my country” before opening fire on the victims.

On March 2nd, 43 year old Harnish Patel was shot and killed in Lancaster County, South Carolina. The crime is not currently being investigated as racially motivated, but the details are still as yet unknown.

On March 3rd, Deep Rai, a Sikh man was shot and injured in front of his house in Kent, near Seattle, after his attacker shouted “go back to your country.” India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj said on twitter: “I am sorry to know about the attack on Deep Rai a US national of Indian origin. I have spoken to Sardar Harpal Singh, father of the victim.” “He told me that his son had a bullet injury on his arm. He is out of danger and is recovering in a private hospital.”

On Friday March 10th, a 64 year old Florida man, Richard Lloyd, tried to set a convenience store on fire because he thought the owners were Arab Muslims. In fact, they were of Indian descent. Mr. Lloyd said he planned to burn the building because he “was doing his part for America.”

The Cause and the Community

According to the Washington Post, the father of one of the people injured in the Olathe, Kansas shooting pointed to the election of President Trump as a cause for the hate crime in question, and even pleaded with parents in India to “not to send their children to the United States.”

This latter statement speaks to what I believe must not be lost on the community. On the surface, the most recent election has caused a growing sentiment of divisiveness in this country against many groups, including Muslims and Mexicans. And, clearly, those brazen enough to act on such divisiveness in a criminal manner aren’t often sophisticated enough to tell the difference between the ethnicities and faiths of “brown” individuals. But their inability to correctly identify an individual’s race or faith isn’t the point, nor should it made to be the point.

Beneath the surface, we must recognize the incredible danger and irresponsibility of those who seek power, and attempt to gain it, by trafficking in hate against any group, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. This applies to all groups, not just ones we belong to. The “they attacked an Indian, but they meant to attack an Arab Muslim” type of reaction to these hate crimes is not an acceptable position, in any way shape or form. Because no one should be attacked for their skin color or faith. No one should be discriminated against. It seems as though I’m stating the obvious. It may even seem like I’m writing an incredibly derivative and reductive version of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. But it must be repeated again and again until we can internalize this truth. We must stand up for each other as if we are standing up for ourselves.

About ten years ago, my former employer, asked me why I supported the LGBTQ community’s right to marry, since I’m not a member of that community. And I told him, “because equal rights are a slippery slope. If you won’t fight for others, who will fight for you?” We must stand together, against all injustices, against all hate crimes, against the misogyny, the anti-Semitism, the homophobia, and the xenophobia.

So what do we do next? Where do we turn? If you want to support the effort to fight these hate crimes, and/or if you wish to report such a hate crime, here are some resources:

  • The South Asian Bar Association –www.sabanorthamerica.com

  • SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) – www.saalt.org

  • The Southern Poverty Law Center – www.splcenter.org

  • The ACLU – www.aclu.org

Please also do not be afraid to reach out to your local, state, and federally elected officials and representatives as well.

The Current Response

SABA has moved to condemn the hate crimes, and called for an investigation of the Olathe, Kansas shooting as a hate crime, as well as issued statements against the recent travel bans.

SAALT has co-sponsored a resolution with Congressman Crowley (D-NY) and Congresswoman Jayapal (D-WA), which will be introduced to the House of Representatives this week to condemn the hate violence against our communities and hold the White House accountable for creating this climate with their rhetoric and policies.

SAALT has also worked to draft similar legislation in Kansas and is referring calls to their National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) to work on unifying our voices and resources.