*First published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, March 7, 2017.*
On February 22, 2017 Adam Purinton opened fire while allegedly shouting “Go back to your country!” at two Indian men in a Kansas bar, killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounding his friend Alok Madasani, as well as another patron, Ian Grillot, who tried to intervene.
Purinton reportedly verbally harassed the two Indian men over the course of the evening before bar staff escorted him off the premises. He returned with his weapon and began shooting. The BBC reported Purinton later told bartenders that he “had shot two Iranians” before being arrested. Adam Purinton is a white man — so, of course, he has not been labeled a terrorist by any media, nor has there been any meaningful government response to this suspected hate crime.
The outward ripples of this horrific crime in Olathe, Kansas, have reached all the way to Hyderabad, India, where hundreds of supporters attended Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s funeral and cremation services. This is a nightmare end to one version of the American dream that so many capable, talented, and qualified Indians hope for.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s mother told the BBC:
“My son had gone there in search of a better future. What crime did he commit?”
The crime of being brown in America, apparently.
And it isn’t the first time an Indian has been killed because a white person mistook them for Muslim. Hate crimes against South Asians have been on the rise since 9/11, when a series of attacks against and murders of Sikh men set off a trend of killings over perceived Muslimness in the years proceeding. And, in the days since the shooting in Olathe, a convenience store clerk was killed and a Sikh man, Deep Rai, was shot in Seattle, Washington, by a man who yelled, “Go back to your own country!”
This issue continues to affect all members of the South Asian community, even those who supported Donald Trump. I’m a half white and half Sri Lankan, but that hasn’t stopped ignorant white people from treating me with suspicion until they find out I’m an atheist (which opens up a whole other can of worms), and sometimes even that doesn’t help. I’ve often been told I need to “go home,” even though I am an American-born citizen. America is home.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice is keeping track of all the hate crimes against South Asians, and the sheer number of stories is shocking.
Whether a brown person is Arab or Muslim shouldn’t even matter when it comes to someone else’s self-appointed right to shoot them. It’s disgusting that we even need to remind a segment of society that is is not right or legal to shoot someone because of how they look.
The Trump regime and Republican puppets have done nothing to assuage this situation. The Muslim ban threw more fuel on the fire of xenophobia. It was too long before Trump even acknowledged the hate crime in Olathe, and when he did, it was perfunctory and only further contributed to the demonization of brown people in America. Furthermore, Trump and his fellow Republicans have failed utterly in condemning the rise of violent white nationalism in this country, even though more white men have committed acts of terrorism on American soil than all other groups put together.
One of the saddest things about South Asians and being perceived Muslim is that there is a huge segment of the non-Muslim Desi community who actually voted for and support Donald Trump — many because of their own historical prejudices against the Muslim community. It is beyond ironic that, from a white nationalist perspective, South Asian people are indistinguishable. Being a model minority is not going to protect South Asians from these kinds of attacks. Not now, and certainly not while the white supremacist Trump regime is in power.
A number of South Asian organizations, have called on the U.S. government to investigate Kuchibhotla’s murder as a hate crime and denounce the rising violence and threats against a variety of minorities, including the Jewish community. Their calls appear to be falling on deaf ears, since our current Republican administration has made it clear that they quietly endorse this terrifying rise of white nationalism — that was their platform during the 2016 election, after all.
Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, told India West:
“This incident is the latest in a rising tide of hate violence against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities, electrified by the president’s anti-immigrant policies. When our ‘so-called’ leaders attempt to govern from an angle of xenophobia, these sentiments embolden deadly violence against our communities.”
The tragedy is that we are entering only the second month of the Trump regime. It’s safe to say that things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get better if these first days of the Republican reign are any indication. The fact that President Trump refuses to condemn these hate crimes across the board in a timely manner only emboldens those who have their own crimes in the works.
Be safe out there, my fellow brown Americans. If you’re privileged with an American exit plan, now might be a good time to put it in motion. No judgement.