The Trump administration’s first high-profile civil rights prosecution of a hate crime has gotten underway with a federal grand jury indicting Adam W. Purinton on hate crime in the killing of Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla, on Feb. 22, in Olathe, Kansas.
Indian-American activists and organizations have welcomed a federal grand jury indictment June 9 in the hate crime incident in which another Indian techie, Alok Madasani, and an American hero, Ian Grillot, who went to their defense, were wounded.
The indictment of Purinton, 52, of Olathe, Kansas, a copy of which is available on the Justice Department website, accuses Purinton of shooting and killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla “because of Kuchibhotla’s actual and perceived race, color, religion and national origin.” It also accuses Purinton of attempting to kill Alok Madasani for the same reasons.
A third count in the indictment charges Purinton with violating a federal firearms statute by discharging a firearm at Kuchibhotla, Madasani, and the third man, Ian Grillot, during those crimes of violence.
The indictment alleges that Purinton committed the offenses after substantial planning and premeditation, attempted to kill more than one person in a single criminal episode, and knowingly created a grave risk of death to others on the scene.
The statute authorizes a maximum penalty of death or life in prison; the Justice Department will decide at a later date whether, in this particular case, it will seek the death penalty.
The Kuchibhotla killing made headlines in the country and in India, and made many Indians seeking jobs in the U.S. wary of coming here. It also galvanized the Indian-American community to become pro-active on issues of hate crime, which to-date had been a major concern mainly for those of the Sikh and Muslim faith among them.
The hate crime indictment is being welcomed by Indian-American activists and organizations.
“Important” noted Vanita Gupta, former head of the federal Civil Rights Division forwarding the New York Times story on the Purinton indictment.
The advocacy organization, Hindu American Foundation, in a press release, lauded the U.S. Attorney in Kansas for charging Purinton with a hate crime.
The incident drew the attention of President Donald Trump who mentioned it in his first speech to the Joint Session of Congress March 4.
On that fateful night of Feb. 22, at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, Purinton questioned the two Indian men on their immigration status and told them to “get out of my country.” He came back with a gun and shot Kuchibhotla, and wounded Madasani and Grillot. He later reportedly told a bartender that he had shot some “Iranian” men.
Kuchibhotla and Madasani worked at the tech company Garmin. Grillot, an onlooker who tried to intervene only to be wounded, has been hailed as an American Hero by the Indian Government and by Indian-American groups around the U.S. He has received monetary support to tide him over while he recovers.
A GoFundMe page created for Kuchibhotla with the aim of raising $150,000 for his family, has raised $682,528.
“Srini was the kindest person you would meet, full of love, care and compassion for everyone. He never uttered a word of hatred, a simple gossip, or a careless comment. He was brilliant, well mannered and simply an outstanding human being,” says the GoFundMe page.
“This is a positive step not just for the loved ones of Srinivas, but for victims of hate crimes across the United States who await justice,” Suhag Shukla, executive director and legal counsel at Hindu American foundation. “It is now incumbent upon the Department of Justice to pursue this hate crime charge to the furthest extent of the law. Anything short will be a grave injustice to his widow Sunayana, as well as the people of Olathe and beyond,” Shukla added.
Following the shooting and the death, the Olathe community has “surrounded the (Kuchibhotla) family with love and caring,” Sgt. Logan Bonney, public information officer of the Olathe Police Department told News India Times. Olathe was a tight-knit community of 140,000 people and only 1 homicide took place there all of last year, Bonney pointed out.Several churches came forward to help members of the Indian community in the township, and Garmin International extended support to the victims’ families and the community.
“This is an isolated incident by one individual and absolutely not representative of our community,” Bonney insisted.
In its latest report, “Power, Pain, Potential,” the civil rights advocacy organization, South Asian Americans Leading Together, says it has documented 207 incidents of “hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric” aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern American communities during the divisive 2016 elections.
“While we know this number accounts for only a fraction of actual incidents aimed at our communities, 95% of the incidents documented were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment,” SAALT says.
On June 6, just 3 days before Purinton’s indictment, the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service held a hate crimes forum at at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Kansas City. It was attended by representatives from government agencies, community leaders, and advocacy organizations to address the issue of hate crimes.
“The Kansas community is still reeling from the February killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla by a gunman who screamed “Get out of my country” before opening fire. This attack was neither the beginning nor the end of the epidemic of hate violence targeting South Asian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and interfaith communities across the country,” SAALT said in its press release.