One of New Jersey’s major cities where Indian-Americans live in significant numbers, is investigating who sent out racist flyers during 2017 Board of Education elections that targeted the community as well as other citizens of Asian origin. Council members expressed their frustration with law enforcement agencies and said they are taking the matter into their own hands.
The seven-member Edison Township Council includes two Indian-Americans, Vice President Ajay Patil and Councilman Samip Joshi, indicative of the importance of this ethnic minority in the city.
Edison is in Middlesex County, and according to the U.S. Census, as of July 1, 2018, 36.4 percent of the population is White; 49 percent is Asian including those of Indian descent; 7.1 percent Black or African American; and 9.6 percent is Hispanic or Latino. (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/edisontownshipmiddlesexcountynewjersey)
This February, the Council created a ‘Committee of the Whole on Recent Elections in Edison Township’, to investigate the racial flyers mailed in November of 2017, which carried the photos of Edison School Board candidates Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel, with a glaring red target sign on the photos that read “Deport.”
It also said, “Stop Jerry Shi & Falguni Patel From taking over our School Board” and added the blatantly racist words, “The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town! Chinese school! Indian school! Cricket fields! Enough is Enough!”
Also circulated was what looked like a postcard which had a red “STOP” sign with bullet points which read — “Stop the overcrowding ! Stop taking over our sports fields ! Stop the McMansions ! Stop the multiple families living in the same house! Stop wasting school holidays ! Stop the outsiders !” It also added in bold letters – “Let’s take back our Edison & our Schools”.
“We are going to get to the bottom of this. We are determined,” Councilman David Diehl, chair of the investigative subcommittee, told News India Times.
Council President Alvaro Gomez convened 3 of the 7 Edison council members – Indian-American Councilman Samip Joshi, as well as Councilmen Diehl and Michael Lombardi to lead the subcommittee for the investigation.
Diehl expressed frustration with the way the matter had been handled over the last more than a year since the flyers were circulated.
“We felt that there was a lot of evidence that was available. We didn’t understand why the Police Department did not solve it and passed it on the Attorney General. And when nothing came of that we decided to do it ourselves,” Diehl said. “One of the frustrating things is we were told they would not even respond to us. We really got no information on whether the investigation was going on,” he added. The Council, Diehl said, sent out letters to the various agencies asking if anything was being done to follow up on the racist flyers.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office responding via email to this reporter’s query on whether the issue of the flyers was being investigated, said, “It is our policy to neither confirm nor (sic) investigations.”
“We have a good deal of information, and as I’ve said before – if the FBI was investigating this, it would be solved by Thursday,” Diehl said.
“I have been pushing for an investigative committee with subpoena powers since I was sworn in January 2018,” Councilman Joshi told News India Times. “I am fully committed to finding out the people that were behind this fire,” he added.
The committee has scheduled the first meeting to interview 10 people, and has the right to issue subpoena’s as required for sworn testimonies. The first meeting is scheduled for May 14 at 7 pm in Edison Township Council Chambers and is open to the public. Another meeting is scheduled for May 23.
Asked what an investigation such as this so long after the event would help, Diehl said, “It will accomplish a lot. For one thing, it stained the reputation of Edison and misrepresented it as a biased town which it absolutely is not. It’s insulting to the town.”
Secondly, Diehl said, “We want to make sure to bring these people to justice so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. If we don’t, it may happen again,” because people would think they can get away with it, he said.
Asked who else he might call for questioning, Diehl said emphatically, “Everybody. everybody. Anybody who has any information.”
The press release gave the names of 10 individuals who have been asked by the investigative committee to provide sworn testimony for the first meeting and additional witnesses will be asked to come to the May 23 meeting.
The first list includes Board of Education members Shi and Patel at whom the flyers were directed in 2017.
Those called for the first meeting include: Mayor Thomas Lankey, Police Officer Kieth Hahn, Democratic Chairman Shariq Ahmad, Republican Chairwoman Sylvia Engel, Board of Education Member Falguni Patel, Board of Education Member Jerry Shi, Board of Education Member Beth Moroney, Board of Education former Member Paul Distefano, Board of Education Member Shannon Peng, Board of Education former Member Shivi Prasad-Madhukar.
A letter from the firm of Dressel/Malikschmitt LLP, attorneys at law, dated April 30, which was made available to News India Times, went to the various people named above, informing them that the Committee of the Whole was conducting the inquiry and that they had been selected “to provide testimony” on the flyers that “apparently” attacked Edison’s Asian communities and were disseminated in advance of the 2017 Board of Education elections.
“Resolving these questions of public interest is of paramount concern to the Township Council and your participation will be crucial towards this end,” the letter said.