The shooting death of an Indian man in a Kansas bar in a hate crime has sparked
outrage and heightened concerns in the Indian-American community, Ela Dutt writes
The Feb. 22 killing of an Indian man in a Kansas City bar has provoked international and national outrage and calls from Indian-American lawmakers and advocacy organizations to mobilize the community, end anti-Muslim rhetoric, and tighten laws to prevent bias crimes.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a young engineer working at the technology company Garmin, was killed at the Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, Feb. 22. His friend Alok Madasani and a bystander Ian Grillot, who tried to stop the shooter, were also hurt. The man who killed Kuchibhotla, Adam W. Purinton, was arrested several hours later in Clinton, Missouri after a bartender there alerted the police about a man boasting he had shot some “Middle Easterners.” The Kansas City Star reported witnesses at the Olathe bar said Purinton had engaged the Indian men and used racial slurs and told them “Get out of my country,” and “terrorists.”
Purinton has been charged with one count of premeditated first degree murder, which in Kansas could result in a sentence of 25 to 50 years to life in prison. He is also charged with two counts of attempted first degree murder.
“The police department is working around the clock to bring justice and present the best case possible,” Sergeant Logan Bonney, public information officer of the Olathe Police Department told News India Times.
The Johnson County District Attorney’s office and Sgt. Bonney said Purinton is in custody in Johnson County and Kristi Bergeron at the DA’s office, told News India Times Purinton will make his first court appearance at the Divisional Magistrate Court number 4 on Feb. 27 at 1 p.m.. He will then be assigned to a criminal court.
This latest killing has heightened concerns of a backlash against the community which has often prided itself as being the model minority that contributes way above its weight in numbers to the American social and political fabric.
Indian-American lawmakers at the state and national level, reacted strongly to the killing as did the Indian government, and diplomatic officials at both the American Embassy in New Delhi and Indian Embassy in Washington.
“The spate of hate crimes happening over the last few weeks has finally hit Indian-Americans,” Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, told News India Times. “The community is not mobilized enough and its time it did,” he added. “We have to mobilize people on our side of the aisle (Democrats) but also have the other side (Republicans) recognize the gravity of the situation,” Krishnamoorthi said, “This goes beyond party and politics.”
“I strongly condemn the shooting in Kansas. Xenophobia has no place in our communities,” tweeted Indian-American Senator Kamala Harris, D-California. “My thoughts are with the victims & their families.”
Republican State Rep. Niraj Antani of Ohio told News India Times, the Indian-American community should stand together during this time of mourning. “Our community continues to contribute greatly to our nation and the vast majority of Americans know that,” he said, adding, “Thus, it’s unfortunate to see this act of hatred.”
Advocacy organizations want the incident to be classified as a hate crime. “This is definitely part of a huge spark in hate crimes targeting South Asians and Muslims,” Lakshmi Sridaran, director of national policy and advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which has been collecting data on “hate violence” since November 2015. “This is part of a trend of people feeling emboldened against communities of color, specifically Muslims,” Sridaran said.
The South Asian Bar Association of North America said government reaction to hate violence “remains faint.”
“In response to the increasing vitriol towards our communities, our government must be our first line of defense.” said SABA President Vichal Kumar in a press release.
On the issue of describing it as a hate crime, Sgt. Bonney said, “We are working jointly with the FBI to determine if any civil rights violations took place to make sure we got this one hundred percent,” case.
Meanwhile, in India, Kuchibhotla’s father warned Indian parents not to send their children to study or work in the United States, the Washington Post reported. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressed shock over Kuchibhotla’s killing and Indian Embassy officials were rushed to Kansas to assist Kuchibhotla’s wife Sunayana who also works in Kansas, and with transporting the body of Kuchibhotla to India.
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi strongly condemned the shooting and said it had reached out to Indian consular officials to offer full support as they help the victims. “The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live,” said Chargé d’Affaires MaryKay Carlson in a statement, adding that the case would be thoroughly prosecuted.
Olathe, Kansas Reacts
“On February 22nd, 2017, an intoxicated man hurling racial slurs opened fire inside a packed Kansas bar killing our dearest friend Srinivas Kuchibhotla,” says the GoFundme page created for Kuchibhotla. “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 fundraising page which had raised $382,187 by Feb. 24 afternoon though it had an initial target of $150,000 (https://www.gofundme.com/srinus-familyrecovery-support).
Over just the last two days since the incident, the Olathe community has “surrounded the (Kuchibhotla) family with love and caring,” Sgt. Bonney said. Several churches have opened their doors, and Garmin International has extended support to the victims’ families and the community.
Several funds have been set up, he said. Olathe, he said, was a tight-knit community of 140,000 people and only 1 homicide took place there all of last year.
“This is an isolated incident by one individual and absolutely not representative of our community,”he said. If Indian-Americans around the area were fearful or concerned, “We want them to come to us, reach out in person, walk in, or on Facebook. We are more than happy to hear their concerns and help,” Sgt. Bonney said.