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Sureshbhai Patel: The Hidden Asian Victims of Police Brutality

Artwork by Michelle Dong, staff artist

On February 6th, 2015, an unknown caller reported a suspicious, dark-skinned man to police in Madison, Alabama, commenting that the man was looking into people's garages. Responding officers, among them Officer Eric Parker, asked the man for identification, only to not receive a sufficient response. The man they would detain later that day was Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year old Indian man who did not speak English. Only ninety seconds after the start of his encounter with Madison policemen, Patel had his arm twisted by the officer and became partially paralyzed as a result of the rough manner in which Parker approached him.

Though the Patel family settled a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Madison two months ago, their experience is a testament to the maltreatment of people of color that Asians are not exempt from. The Patel tale is yet again another chapter in the denigration, marginalization, and elimination of the struggles of the Asian-American minority within the political debate, especially over policing and law enforcement. The mistreatment of Asian-Americans demands justice just as much as the Black community's losses of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, or Breonna Taylor. Officer Parker, although no longer a policeman, was acquitted of federal civil rights violations in 2015 after two successive trials where all of the non-Black jurors voted to acquit. Out of concern for double jeopardy - where a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice in the same jurisdiction after a verdict has been reached - a third federal trial against him was dismissed the next year.

For far too long, there have been incidents of racial discrimination directed against Asian Americans. An elderly woman in the Bay Area was attacked by a white man, causing her to fight him back with a stick; the Republican Vietnamese-American Chairman of the Orange County, California Board of Supervisors was told to "go back to Vietnam" during public comments; an 84-year old Thai man who was shoved to the ground in San Francisco died from his injuries, and 6 Asian women were killed in Asian-owned Atlanta spas.

San Francisco's Chinese-American community itself has a dark history; Americans disgruntled over economic hardship always found the Chinese as easy targets . In 1877, a major anti-Chinese riot led by unemployed white workers led to the deaths of four, while 1885 and 1886 alone saw massive outbreaks of ethnic violence against the Chinese throughout California.

Today, Asian Americans have largely risen above this discrimination to contribute to the United States in various ways. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese (and to a lesser extent, Korean and Taiwanese) Americans, fought with distinction in the European theater of World War II, Bowen Yang scores laughs on SNL, and the Asian Americans that fill the halls of Congress, Republican or Democrat, do so with the honor of delivering for their constituents the best that they can.

Yet where are the attempts to increase the awareness of Asian Americans aside from "Jackie Chan" (not even an American citizen) and Bruce Lee? Where are the attempts to call out offensive phrases, like, "where are you really from?" and "go back to [insert country here]?" And most importantly, when the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are brought up, where does Mr. Sureshbhai Patel fit into the conversation? Given the intense brutality and abuse he suffered, would one not universally recoil - whether black or white - at the steps he has to take in order to even begin to repair himself? Is the debate around policing and racial profiling, then, a universal one?

Racism is racism, no matter the offending or offended party. Racist statements and attacks by any person against any ethnicity should be condemned in the same ferocity as the murder of Mr. George Floyd.

But where is the same anger, the same fury, at the assault of Mr. Patel, as there was blatantly present at the murder of Mr. Floyd? It has vanished as a result of the systematic assault on the worthiness of the Asian American community to be American.

We are told that we can never be truly American. We are always supposed to laugh off our non-Asian friends making squinty or pointy eyes, or endure the senseless hate spewed by Black, Hispanic, and White bigots in the streets, especially for a pandemic that none of us had a part in. We are supposed to just walk away when we are denied entry to our dorms, the places that we live in and sleep in, or when our children have to work harder just to get onto the same playing field because of the way the admissions process seeks to reduce the “worthiness” Asians. We are supposed to sit idly by while hyped-up fears contribute to the deaths of the elderly and the vulnerable.

Mr. Patel's life matters. Mr. Floyd's life matters. Our lives matter, too, no matter who may try to deny it.

We are tired of being told that we cannot be American. We are tired of hearing the same words over and over again, and being discounted -- disadvantaged -- at the college admissions process and in the United States.

It is time for every American, every person, to unequivocally, resoundingly, not only affirm that #AsianLivesMatter, but take steps to ensure that they do; that the Asian American community plays on an equal playing field and is given greater attention than at present so that its problems may be considered and acted upon in the halls of power.


Sammy Baek is a staff writer at The Incandescent Review. He is a junior in Naperville, Illinois. He is a 2019 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards National Silver Medalist, a finalist at the 2019-20 Chicago Metro History Fair Senior Division, and a finalist at the 2019 Martin Luther King Oratory Contest. He is currently a member of his school's Model UN club and covers history and politics for the Plvs Vltra blog. Follow its Instagram account @plvsvltra_sb.

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