Trump hearkens to killing of Indian engineer in Kansas in his call for national unity

Members of Hindu Sena, a right-wing Hindu group, place a garland on an poster of U.S President-elect Donald Trump ahead of his inauguration, in New Delhi, January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/Files

President Donald Trump kicked off his State of the Union speech to the nation Feb. 28 night with a call for unity, noting the killing of an Indian engineer, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, by a white man in a Kansas bar Feb. 22.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a Nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said as he launched into a speech that focused more on his actions in the first month of his administration and his plans to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism.”.

“I am glad he condemned the murder publicly and glad he indicated we will unite against all hatred, including against the Indian American community,” Ohio state lawmaker Niraj Antani told News India Times via a text message during the President’s speech.

Kuchibhotla was shot to death Feb. 22 by Adam Purinton, who shouted epithets and questioned the two young Indian men about their visas. Kuchibhotla’s friend Alok Madasani, and an onlooker Ian Grillot who tried to prevent the shooting, were injured. Purinton was arrested after a bartender called police from Clinton, Missouri, informing them she had been told by Purinton that he had shot two “Middle Easterners.”

The killing heightened concerns here and in India about racial biased crimes targeting the community and Kuchibhotla’s parents and others linked the killing to Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants. The White House after some initial hesitation, came out to clearly call it a hate crime.

“As more facts come to light and it begins to look like this was an act of racially motivated hatred,” Sarah Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, is quoted saying in news reports. “I want to reiterate the President condemns these or any other racially or religiously motivated attacks in the strongest terms. They have no place in our country.”

Indian-American lawmakers around this country condemned the Kansas killing and urged the administration to protect minorities. They also urged the community to band together to counter hate crimes.

Some activists however, were not convinced of Trump’s commitment to unifying the country. Deepa Iyer, author and former head of the South Asian Americans Leading Together, tweeted, “Don’t fall for acknowledgement of Kansas hate violence in #joint address. Trump’s divisive rhetoric, policies exacerbate the climate of hate.”