In what could be the first hate crime homicide of the divisive, Islamophobic, and xenophobic Trump administration, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, was shot at a bar in Olathe, Kansas. He was shot for being an immigrant, for being different, for being brown in America in 2017. Our hearts and our condolences go out to his family and friends.
On Friday, his widow Sunayana Dumala talked about Kuchibhotla’s life and dreams in Kansas before he was killed. Her words were especially moving. Here’s a video clip of her comments about the man who friends describe as “the most kind and loving, gentle person”:
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Kuchibhotla was shot dead Wednesday night at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe, Kansas. The crowd at the usually family-friendly venue was watching a basketball game on TV. He and his friend Alok Madasani, 32, were regulars at Austins and known as the “Jameson guys” by the bartender, after their drink of choice. They worked as engineers at Garmin, a company known for GPS technology and co-founded by a Taiwanese immigrant. Both men were from Hyderabad, India, and they had completed masters degrees in the U.S.
Adam Purinton, 51, got into an argument with Kuchibhotla and Madasani. Purinton, described by The Kansas City Star as a “Navy veteran, IT specialist, former pilot and air traffic controller who lives in a comfortable suburban home” reportedly shouted racial and anti-immigrant slurs before he shot the two men, who he thought were Middle Eastern. A witness says Purinton shouted “get out of my country” before shooting.
3 men shot (1 dead) in Kansas hate crime. He thought they were Middle Eastern. They were Indian. Hate doesn’t care. https://t.co/n7CMvy8x4O
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) February 24, 2017
Those words “get out of my country” are among the most chilling details about this devastating shooting. Indian immigrants like Srinivas Kuchibhotla help make this country what it is today, as do Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, LGBTQ and other minorities and immigrants from around the world, and their descendants. Hate against any of us hurts all of us. Also, this country belongs to all of us. It’s our home, and we’re not going anywhere. Ian Grillot, 24, another regular at Austins, stood up for the two men during the argument that night and also rushed to help stop the shooter. He was shot and remains hospitalized. His courageous actions are a tribute to the best of humanity, at a time when examples of hate abound in the news.
The New York Times also spoke with Madasani, who was shot and is recovering at home after being released from the hospital:
In a brief phone interview on Friday night, Mr. Madasani described the remarks made Wednesday by the man sitting near him and Mr. Kuchibhotla at the restaurant. “He asked us what visa are we currently on and whether we are staying here illegally,” Mr. Madasani said. (Both men were educated in the United States and were working here legally.) “We didn’t react,” Mr. Madasani said. “People do stupid things all the time. This guy took it to the next level.”
After the shooting, while hiding out at an Applebee’s in Clinton, Missouri, Purinton reportedly bragged to the bartender that he had shot two Middle Eastern men. (Note to White Terrorists: Applebee’s might seem like the whitest joint ever, but it’s not your sanctuary bar/restaurant. The bartender alerted police and even helped keep Purinton there until they arrived.) Purinton is in jail in Johnson County, Kansas, with bond set at $2 million, and due in court Monday. He has been charged with one count of premeditated murder and two counts of attempted premeditated murder. The FBI is still investigating whether the shooting was racially motivated, and civil rights groups are calling for the crime to be treated as a hate crime to send a message against violent attacks targeting religious or ethnic minorities.
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Flags at Garmin’s offices in Olathe flew half-staff Friday as Kuchibhotla’s colleagues mourned his death.
India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, publicly acknowledged the death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and worked with Indian Embassy officials in Houston, who rushed to Kansas to provide assistance to the families. Senator Kamala Harris, and Congress members Raja Krishnamoorthi and Pramila Jayapal issued statements condemning the senseless and violent act of hate. On Friday, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer awkwardly addressed the Olathe killing when asked about it, in the sense that he said it was “absurd” to suggest “any correlation” between the President’s rhetoric and the shooting.
Trump did not personally respond to or acknowledge the tragic shooting. In fact, on Friday, while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) he continued to add fuel to fire with his harsh brand of rhetoric on immigration, saying that immigration officers would seek out criminal aliens, “throwing them the hell out of our country.”
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which has been documenting violence against South Asian communities in the U.S. since 2001, released a statement after the Olathe shooting. It shared statistics about the rise in hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric since the 2016 election and how anti-Muslim sentiment impacts all of us:
SAALT’s latest report, “Power, Pain, Potential,” documents over 200 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric against our communities during the 2016 elections, with an astounding 95% of incidents motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. Regardless of the target, it is enough simply to be perceived as Muslim to be the victim of violence.
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While speaking out on Friday after her husband’s death, Sunayana Dumala raised concerns that may sound familiar to immigrants and their families:
“I have a question in my mind: Do we belong?” said Sunayana Dumala, who like her husband traveled from India to attend a U.S. college.
“We’ve read many times in newspapers of some kind of shooting happening,” she said at a news conference at the headquarters of Garmin, where Kuchibhotla worked as an aviation systems engineer. “And we always wondered, how safe?”
“I need an answer,” she said. “I need an answer from the government. …What are they going to do to stop this hate crime?”
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