If you still haven’t heard the story of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, don’t worry.
It’s unclear if even Donald Trump knows, remembers, or cares. Sort of like his
health care promises.
In his joint address before Congress, the MCOWH (man currently occupying the
White House, in case he is still #NotMyPresident) topped his speech with a
diversity rap that mixed kudos for Black History Month with a denunciation of
the rash of hate threats targeting Jews, and an odd reference to a ” shooting in
Trump said it was a reminder 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
So is he going to fire Steve Bannon?
Because it was the spirit of alt-right wrongness perpetrated by Bannon’s
Breitbart News that has informed Trump on matters of race, and that in turn has
enabled all the hate and evil we see toward immigrants and people of color.
Even Trump’s phraseology of a “shooting in Kansas City” on speech night was a
veritable whitewashing of the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla.
I bet Trump has long forgotten the Garmin tech worker, who was killed on
February 22, two weeks before his 33rd birthday.
On the day he was murdered, Kuchibhotla was having a whisky with his colleague,
Alok Madasani, at a bar in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, about 20 miles
The alleged shooter was Adam Purinton, 51, a Navy veteran, a former air traffic
controller and pilot, who once worked for the FAA, and lived in a comfortable
Kansas City suburb, according to news reports.
But when Purinton saw the two men, he didn’t know they were Indian,
highly-educated tech workers. He saw their skin, saw them as others, and opened
fire, yelling,” Get out of my country.”
Purinton shot and injured another bar patron, Ian Grillot, a white American,
before fleeing. Purinton was picked up later in another bar and now faces murder
charges for the one person who didn’t survive, Kuchibhotla.
Purinton’s lawyers had him before a judge last week to ask for more time.
But the Indian community finally has begun to speak out in earnest.
Some have even suggested this could be a Vincent Chin moment for Indian
Americans, and for the broad group of Asian Americans affected by Islamophobia.
I tend to agree. But is Kuchibhotla Vincent Chin?
IS KUCHIBHOTLA VINCENT CHIN?
In some ways, yes. Both were immigrants, and that set off some animus in their
Purinton seems to have been spurred on by anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the FBI
has said it is now considering it a hate crime.
Ronald Ebens, however, told me he didn’t see Chin as a foreigner. He said the
altercation that ensued began with the auto worker and his son-in-law hurling a
racial epithet toward someone they saw as the personification of the Japanese
Ebens claimed in my interview with him that he was sucker punched, declined to
fight, but then eventually pursued Chin with a baseball bat. That’s when he told
me, he lost it.
In my interview with
in 2012: “If he hadn’t sucker punched me in the bar…nothing would have ever
happened. They forced the issue. And from there after the anger built up, that’s
where things went to hell.”
The punchline to the story is what happened in court.
Ebens and his son-in-law, Michael Nitz, were allowed to plea bargain in a
Michigan court to escape mandatory jail time for second degree murder. Ebens
pleaded guilty; Nitz pleaded nolo contendere. Both men got this sentence: three
years’ probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court costs.
No jail time. Eventually, there was a federal civil rights prosecution that
acquitted Nitz and found Ebens guilty, sentencing him to 25 years in prison. But
then Ebens appealed and was acquitted in a second trial.
Ebens did lose a judgment in a civil court, which still has not been satisfied.
With interest, the amount Ebens owes the Chin estate is estimated to be
somewhere around $10 million.
But there was no jail time for any of the perps, and no finding of a hate crime.
In that sense, the Kuchibhotla case and the Chin case have already diverged.
Purinton is behind bars with bail set at $2 million, and the FBI is
investigating the murder as a possible hate crime.
The cases do converge in the important point of serving as the final straw for
many South Asians, who might have thought their success, wealth, and obvious
contributions to American society would inoculate them from hate.
HATE VIOLENCE REPORT
The Kuchibhotla case coincides with a new SAALT
on hate crimes.
According to a SAALT database established after the attacks in San Bernardino
and Paris in 2015, in one year up to November 15, 2016, there have been 207
incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric directed at South
Asian, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, Hindu, and Middle Eastern Americans.
That’s a 34 percent increase in less than a third of the time covered in SAALT’s
Here’s a breakdown from the report: 140 incidents of hate violence, 67 incidents
of xenophobic political rhetoric, of which 196 (95 percent) were motivated by
anti-Muslim sentiment. And one in five instances of xenophobic rhetoric came
from Donald Trump.
The report acknowledges its threshold of a hate crime may be lower than the
legal definition, but points out that the 2015 hate crime statistics show a 7
percent increase in hate crimes overall, including a whopping 67 percent
increase in hate crimes against Muslims.
Taken as a whole, SAALT’s stats paint “a full picture of the xenophobia our
communities face,” the report says. It concludes that while all South Asians are
not Muslim, and not all Muslims are South Asian, “it is enough simply to be
perceived as Muslim to be a target of hate violence and xenophobic political
That’s seems to be what happened in Kuchibhotla’s case.
And so while some details of the Purinton shooting are very different, the
effect on the South Asian community is very much like the Vincent Chin case.
It’s a story that has made a new generation woke.
NOTE: In an upcoming podcast of Emil Amok’s Takeout, I talk to a Chinese
American’s early reaction to the Kuchibhotla case, and how Islamophobia affects