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The Juggernaut: The Dotbusters Were Not "A Joke"

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Navroze Mody. Credit: Kelsea Peterson for The Juggernaut

New Jersey officials downplayed the group’s deadly attacks against Indian Americans. Over 36 years later, little has changed.

By Isha Banerjee

Navroze Mody, a 30-year-old Citicorp bank manager, had recently bought a house in Jersey City and invited his parents to move in with him. He was feeling good about where his life was heading. On the evening of September 27, 1987, he left Hoboken’s Gold Coast Café with a friend, William J. Crawford, when teenagers started yelling racial slurs at him. When Crawford tried to intervene, the teenagers pushed him to a fence. What started as taunting and “accidental” bumping turned into a brutal beating. In 90 seconds, Mody was on the ground. His injuries were so severe that he ended up in a coma. He died four days later. 

Only months before, in July, New Jersey residents settled into their homes to find an unusual manifesto by the “Dotbusters” in their local paper, The Jersey Journal. “We will go to any extreme to get Indians to move out of Jersey City. If I’m walking down the street and I see a Hindu and the setting is right, I will hit him or her,” they wrote. “They are a weak race physically and mentally…We will never be stopped.”

The Dotbusters stood by their word. The spike in hate crimes in the ’80s and ’90s not only killed Mody but led to multiple assaults, including one that left Dr. Kaushal Saran in a coma. But this wasn’t the first time the community confronted such hate and violence, nor would it be the last.

Image by AALDEF
Navroze Mody (Parsi Khabar)

As South Asians immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s in larger numbers, white Americans formed the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1905 as a means to protect their jobs. In the early 1900s, multiple white mobs, including in Bellingham, Washington, and in Vancouver, attacked South Asian immigrants to drive them out of their neighborhood. What followed was decades of discrimination against Asians in the U.S. It wasn’t until 1965 that the U.S. allowed Asians to immigrate to the U.S. freely. 

And so, in 1960, New Jersey’s Indian population was a paltry 1,699. By 1980, that number rose to 29,510. But that feeling that these Indians were taking away white jobs never went away. “[Dotbusters] had to do with economic anxiety, as well as these class differences that the demographics were changing and the Asian community was growing,” said Stanley Mark, senior staff attorney at Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). “[Asians] were…starting to dominate the local economies, and people felt left out.” 

The Dotbusters started in 1975. The group named itself after the slur “dotheads,” in reference to bindis. The Dotbusters never revealed their members, but wrote a letter to the editor in response to a Jersey Journal article, “Asian Indians say bias makes them miserable.” Even though The Jersey Journal didn’t endorse the opinions of the Dotbusters, they gave them a platform. The Dotbusters manifesto laid out the steps to carry out the attacks: peruse the phone book, find someone with the last name “Patel,” break their windows, crash their parties, hit them. 

Image by AALDEF
Letter from the Dotbusters to The Jersey Journal (The Jersey Journal)

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“The name is so preposterous: Dotbusters,” said Stuart J. Sia, communications director at AALDEF. “It’s hard to forget that. You understand it immediately — who they are and who they were trying to hurt.”

The Dotbusters carried out their first attack in September 1987, the only one they claimed. Two white men beat Bhered Patel with a metal pipe while he was sleeping. Two days before the attack, the author of the Dotbusters’ memo, James Kerwin, 21, called The Jersey Journal to say he had attacked an Indian. Kerwin was one of two men police arrested for assaulting Patel.

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In 1992, Thomas Kozak, Martin Ricciardi, and Mark Evangelista, Saran’s alleged assailants, went to court. However, the court acquitted them in two separate trials because the prosecutors failed to prove that the assailants attacked Saran due to his ethnicity.

In response, Saran released a statement through AALDEF. “My only recourse is the legal system. No one should be allowed to walk free for doing what they did to me.”

“I was very disappointed with the failure of the Justice Department to prosecute and win guilty pleas for the attack on Dr. Saran, who had brain damage and because of that, and his inability to remember the incident fully, he wasn’t able to describe any racial slurs or why they attacked him,” Stanley Mark, a senior attorney at AALDEF who worked on Saran’s case, told The Juggernaut. 

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According to Jane Shim, director of the Stop Asian Hate Project at AALDEF, attacks like those the Dotbusters led come in “waves.” Dotbuster attacks waned after the summer of 1987, while attempts to seek justice for the victims continued until the early ’90s.

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Sure, over 36 years after the attacks, Jersey City looks different. City Hall raises an Indian flag for Indian Independence Day, there’s an Indian square with Indian stores, and officials close streets for Diwali and Navratri. And with clearer anti-hate crime statutes, help is quicker.

Still, South Asian hate crimes grab little to no attention. While conversations about race education garner a lot of debate, South Asian Americans are conveniently left out. A 2022 study found that 42% of Americans cannot name one significant historical event that involves Asian Americans, and among ones they can name, not one features South Asians. When prompted about the mistreatment of South Asians post 9/11, 40% said they were “not at all familiar” with the events. 

Unless you were living in New Jersey or are deeply acquainted with AAPI history, perhaps this is the first time you’re hearing about the Dotbuster attacks. Even now, the Dotbusters’ identities remain a mystery.

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Read the article here: https://www.thejuggernaut.com/dotbusters-attacks-anti-indian-hate-crimes-history