In the wake of multiple alleged hate crimes against Sikh individuals in California, there are still unanswered questions that should give Indians everywhere some pause.
Surjit Malhi, while placing road signs for local Republican candidates, was suddenly accosted by two yet-unidentified men. The suspects threw sand in Malhi’s eyes, beat him with a stick, and vandalized his car with white supremacist imagery, all while demanding Malhi return “ to [his] country.”
According to a phone interview conducted with a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department representative, officials are relatively certain the incident meets all the prerequisite legal elements to be classified a “hate crime” by state and federal statute.
It also doesn’t seem as though the incident in Manteca (in which a police chief’s son was arrested for similar offenses) is related to Malhi’s. Liaisons in both counties believe them to be separate.
In an exclusive interview with the News India Times, Sgt. Tom Letras, the Public Information Officer at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department acknowledged that nothing has been said about whether these attacks were politically motivated. “We’ve not determined anything about the political aspect of the situation [with Malhi] and at this time there doesn’t appear to be anything that ties it to Rep. Denham specifically…but it can’t be ruled out,” he stated.
The police are accessing and evaluating security footage from near the crime scene, and have contacted the FBI for possible assistance, as well. Letras stated that the department would “appreciate assistance from the public,” as outreach divisions work to determine if residents can think of anyone who might have wanted to harm Malhi, or have heard bragging or other flippant but incriminating remarks that may point them in the right direction.
The Sheriff’s Department does not know if the hate crime was premeditated or arose as a result of opportunity. Malhi was not aware of anyone following him when it occurred, at around 11:45 PM on July 31st , and believes that his attackers left on foot.
This is just the latest in an increasingly controversial race for the 10th district of California between incumbent Republican Jeff Denham (CA-12) and Democratic candidate Josh Harder.
Rep. Denham’s campaign manager and Denham himself revealed through press releases to local publications that there have been three instances of criminal behavior toward members of Denham’s team in the past two weeks.
Letras indicated that while he was generally aware of instances of “vandalism on [the] personal property” of someone at least minorly affiliated with Rep. Denham’s campaign, it had not been confirmed nor reported as a crime by law enforcement in Waterford County, where it took place.
The records of these incidents have been externally sealed, and the departments have not expressly released that information to the public, according to Letras.
Interestingly enough, Harder is the former mayor of Waterford. It is unclear whether he was involved with the investigative proceedings into the ‘targeting’ of Denham’s staff.
The Congressman urged racial and religious tolerance, condemned the despicability of the attacks, and made clear that he had visited Malhi in the hospital during the immediate aftermath, according to a report from The Modesto Bee.
However, the Congressman has a voting record on the floor of the House that simply does not corroborate that heartfelt sentiment.
According to fivethirtyeight.com, Rep. Denham has voted in support of more than 98% of initiatives pushed or advocated for by the President, including expansion of foreign surveillance programs and upstream metadata collection that operates on US nationals. Other than DACA, on which he was in agreement with bipartisan majority and broke ranks with the President, Denham has consistently aligned himself with reductions in legal immigration, including H1-Bs and employment-based visas, which disparately impact the South Asian community.
Campaign manager Joshua Whitfield said, “the Congressman’s record on his support of communities like the Sikhs and Assyrians stands for itself. That is why we see such strong support from each of those communities among others,” and that “the Congressman works to ensure the safety off all his volunteers and staff regardless of their background. We are all one team and an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
Notably, Whitfield did not specify what he would do to cut down harassment of his South Asian, Indian political operatives, and opted for a decidedly colorblind approach to the matter without acknowledging the struggles faced by members of those particular communities.
This comes as SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) and researchers at the University of Chicago found that there was a connection between the President’s policies and statements and hate crimes.
One in five perpetrators of hate crimes since the 2016 presidential election cited at least one of President Trump’s campaign slogans or proposals, and violence towards the South Asian American populace has increased 45% since before the election.
Congressman Denham’s campaign had no comment about the report, or Denham’s relationship with President Trump.
The News India Times reached out to Harder’s campaign for comment on the Congressman’s statement about “tolerance for all people” when the people working for him were attacked while he continues to support President Trump amidst racially divisive, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and his voting record, the campaign stated:
“This is a classic case of a DC politician that says one thing when he’s here in the district, and then goes back to DC and votes the opposite. The reality is that Denham hasn’t passed a single bill to stop children from being torn away from their parents and stop law-abiding Dreamers and dependable farm workers from getting deported. And he’s voted with Republicans in Congress 100% of the time.”
Harder ‘liked’ an RNNC spokesman’s Facebook comment yesterday; it was criticized by his Republican opponents as a tacit endorsement of statements about Rep. Denham’s spouse, principally “shame on your Mexican wife. ” yelled by a progressive activist campaigning on Harder’s behalf.
After nearly a week of silence and limited public discussion relating to the incident, Harder and his campaign released a statement absolving themselves of responsibility, indicating that an unidentified staffer accidentally liked the comment before ‘un-liking’ it a short period of time later.
The Modesto Bee wrote that The Modesto Progressive Democratic Club rushed to Harder’s defense, and said that while they don’t condone the comments or the steps taken by the campaign, the candidate himself was not directly culpable. The organization asked Denham and his supporters to “call out Donald Trump with a similar passion for his comments calling Mexicans rapists” as the progressive activists against whom they have railed so fervently in recent days.
The Harder campaign’s Nicole Nabulsi noted in correspondences with a News India Times reporter that “hateful comments have no place in our district or anywhere, for that matter. It’s important to me, and I know to the voters as well, that we keep this campaign focused on the issues and that is what I intend to do. And, while mistakes and accidents happen on campaigns, we’ll be certain to be mindful of what we’re tapping and clicking on social media. Ensuring that federal legislation exists to effectively cut back on hate crimes is a priority for Josh, for all South Asians and other minority groups.”
The California 10th is vital for continued Republican control of the House or a Democratic Party-precipitated change in leadership. The race features a moderate Republican incumbent attempting to establish footholds in the middle-class and suburban voter demographic—Hillary Clinton won the district by a substantial margin in 2016, which put pressure on conservative lawmakers running for seats to veer left on a number of key issues, including monetary policy and tax reform and immigration.
Divorcing himself from President Trump’s platform does not seem to be part of Rep. Denham’s strategy, unlike many of his colleagues placed in similar situations. Only time will tell if these moves will compel voters to turn out come November 6th.