Indian-American leaders, from activists to heads of multinationals, have spoken out against the death of African American George Floyd whose neck was leaned on by a white policeman Derek Chauvin in Minnesota May 25, 2020.
Chauvin has been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter, and charges against the three other policemen, at least one of them of Asian descent, are expected to be filed.
Leaders in the Indian-American community are urging greater engagement with the political process to bring an end to systemic racism.
Just as Indian-Americans exult in their achievements and many believe they have a seat and some power at the national policy table, so they need to embrace the responsibility that comes with it, to make America live up to its founding principles of equality and social justice.
There are no “two sides” to the brutal death of Floyd, as the nearly nine-minute video seen around the world, testifies. News coverage of riots is taking away from the original sin against Floyd. Conspiracy theories abound including foreign intervention to spread disinformation, on whether it is the “far left” like Antifa, or “far right” White Supremacists, engaging in violence to make a mockery of Floyd’s death.
As of June 1, the National Guard was activated in 23 states and Washington, D.C., and thousands had been arrested as protests broke out nationwide and public and private property destroyed.
For the time being, COVID-19 is by the wayside, even though this virus has taken the lives or more African Americans than any other community, in itself a symptom of the systemic racism, some analysts say.
Coming on the heels of the recent deaths of other African Americans like Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, or the 2014 incident with Eric Garner in New York City, Floyd’s death could be the straw that broke the camel’s back in engaging the wider Indian-American community, and not just its leaders.
Almost simultaneously, the Indian-American community is not immune to the May 26, 2020, viral video revealing the long embedded dirty laundry of ‘white privilege’, one that has dogged the country’s path to equality and justice for hundreds of years — Amy Cooper, the white woman in Central Park who called 911 with pretended panic that she felt threatened by a black man
All that, and Floyd’s death has already smeared the moral high ground America has held around the globe in protecting the human rights of people imprisoned or killed elsewhere.
Indian-American individuals who have achieved great heights in the U.S., — from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet, and Satya Nadella of Microsoft, to Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the largest civil rights organization in the country, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have condemned Floyd’s killing in so many words, and called for solidarity with African Americans in their struggle for social justice.
So have other advocacy organizations like SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together), and South Asians for America, or religion-based advocacy groups like Hindu American Foundation. As have Indian-American elected leaders at all levels, local to national, professional organizations like the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, AAPI, the largest ethnic medical organization in the country.
Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold which brings out Desi Talk, called Floyd’s death a “very serious” event.
” The Indian-American community should get very involved. This kind of racial hatred and animosity is unacceptable. We empathize. Our own religion, culture and way of life has faced discrimination. By joining this movement against systemic racism, we ensure that all communities are treated equally,” Dr. Parikh said.
Anil Bansal, president of the Federation of Indian Associations in the tri-state area, said the rest of the Indian-American community cannot use their leaders as proxy for holding up the cause of civil rights.
“A wider section of our community must speak out. We cannot just be happy that Indian (American) leaders are speaking as if on our behalf,” Bansal said, adding, “This is a minority issue and we are a minority, so we are part of it,” said Bansal, adding that FIA was holding an Executive Committee meeting June 4, to discuss how to show support for African Americans.
“In order to improve the quality and future of minorities like us, we must support African Americans in a peaceful way to bring the change about,” Bansal said. “We may forget the past when we were discriminated against more than 100 years ago, but we should not forget that the latest wave of Indian immigrants (in the 1960s and 1970s). We are here because of the African American struggle for civil liberties.”
The Hindu American Foundation in its statement directly addressed law enforcement and lawmakers.
“The Hindu American Foundation stands in solidarity with peaceful protestors across the nation condemning the horrific killing of George Floyd and calling out systemic racism and excessive violence against African Americans by our nation’s police,” said the June 1, 2020 statement.
Suhag Shukla, executive director of HAF, said, “As Americans, we must wrestle with two dissonant truths: that the founders of the United States created a nation philosophically promising freedom and equality for all people, and that this nation was built on the backs of enslaved Africans and the spilled blood of Native Americans.
“The collective negative karma of our nation’s past and centuries of subjugation has yet to be resolved,” Shukla added.
The HAF announced it has joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Gupta’s organization, to ask Congress for “swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.”
The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), in a statement, “condemned racial discrimination and violence.”
Dr. Suresh Reddy, president of AAPI said, “As American Physicians of Indian-origin, we are unanimously outraged by George Floyd’s death and the long history of racial discrimination that lives in this country.” He was joined by several executive committee members of AAPI, who noted that solutions were needed, “that ensure everyone in this nation receives fair and equal treatment and that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.”
The Indian American Muslim Council, in a May 31, 2020 statement said it was “outraged” by Floyd’s killing and stood in solidarity with African Americans while urging police reforms and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“The treatment of minorities, especially blacks by police officers in the United States of America is a systemic problem that should not be tolerated or normalized,” the IAMC said. “We call for immediate reforms and training of police officers by installing a just system of law enforcement by creating structural changes through the lens of restorative justice (instead of punitive justice) and community-based models of policing …”
The Indian American Forum for Political Education president Dr. Sampat Shivangi, said Floyd’s death was “one of the biggest tragedies in American history.”
While everyday news about hate and bias is not new, “It’s far too often the experience and reality in daily lives, particularly for the Black and African American community,” Nadella said in a note to employees reported in several media outlets.
“There is no place for hate and racism in our society,” Nadella tweeted June 1. “Empathy and shared understanding are a start, but we must do more. I stand with the Black and African American community and we are committed to building on this work in our company and in our communities.”
Nadella acknowledged that it was not enough to just have empathy. “It’s incumbent upon us to use our platforms, our resources, to drive that systemic change, right?”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, “Today on US Google & YouTube homepages we share our support for racial equality in solidarity with the Black community and in memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery & others who don’t have a voice. For those feeling grief, anger, sadness & fear, you are not alone.”
Nevertheless, Pichai’s tweet garnered critics who called it “hypocritical,” on grounds that alleged racist websites had not been removed from company’s ad network.
The LCCHR, Gupta’s organization, along with The Native American Community Development Institute, and UNIDOS MN issued a joint statement on the killing of George Floyd, which read, “Nearly six years after Eric Garner cried out ‘I can’t breathe,’ another unarmed Black man uttered the same words as he was choked to death over several minutes by police officers in Minneapolis. George Floyd should be alive today — and there is no justification for this inhumane and lethal use of force.”
Gupta, who headed the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department for part of the Obama years, during which she oversaw the investigation of several police departments around the country and worked on retraining programs for law enforcement personnel, questioned the dismantling of the division she once headed during the Trump administration.
Apart from her personal Twitter account, Gupta’s organization noted that “Police misconduct and abuse of power are antithetical to our ideals of justice & equality. ALL people deserve to feel safe in their homes, in their communities, and in their country. Safety is a civil & human right without which society cannot thrive & democracy cannot function.”
It LCCHR also noted, “Racial violence in America is not new. And this history is in part why Minneapolis – and the entire nation — is reeling in pain.”
Gupta in a May 31 tweet, addressed AG Barr, demanding, “… where is your stmt on what USDOJ will do to build community-police trust? That recognizes how racial injustice has corroded people’s faith in the legal system and its impact on public safety?” She recommended opening a “pattern & practice investigation.”
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT, came out swinging following Floyd’s death, calling it “state-sanctioned police brutality”, and contended that it marked the “1,014th murder by U.S. police in the past year.”
South Asians For America, previously South Asians For Obama, said, “We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. … South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans.”
Lawmakers & Enforcers
Indian-Americans “need to stand in solidarity against injustice and racism while urging nonviolent action,” Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, told News India Times. “We must all condemn violence of all kinds whether it’s done by a policeman against George Floyd, or whether it’s done by looters or others.”
New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal urged Indian-Americans to speak out, organize, build links with local police departments, and do that in ways that still observes COVID-19 protocols in these dangerous times.
“It could happen to an Indian-American,” Gopal told News India Times referring to Floyd’s killing. “Remember 9/11? after which Indian-Americans were targeted.”
“We need to empathize. By joining up to speak out, putting our views out on social media,” he said, because for now, public meetings under COVID were not the best idea.
“I cannot, and should not pretend that I have ever experienced the plight or experiences of America’s black community—but I want to understand, and I stand with our black community in their fight for justice. Watching this video was sickening, inhumane, disgusting and horrifying. Point blank – it was murder sanctioned by individuals sworn to protect us,” Gopal said on Facebook.
“We cannot afford to let this tragedy pass into yesterday’s headlines. America needs healing, and our black community deserves justice for the bigotry and systematic prejudice that many black Americans face every day,” Gopal added noting that while the prejudices that arose from hundreds of years of slavery cannot be wiped out overnight, “we can and must come together as a nation to agree that it (systemic racism) exists, to heal the wounds in our nation’s psyche, and to make sure that this kind of tragedy never happens again.”
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in a thread on Twitter, noted the steps taken by his department to avoid an event akin to Floyd’s killing, among them – requiring an independent grand jury investigation every time a civilian dies in police custody; overhauling the disciplinary process; organizing hundreds of listening sessions; requiring every police department to implement an “early warning system” to identify personnel at risk of harmful behavior; imposing new statewide rules “governing law enforcement interactions with historically marginalized communities.”