The Alabama cop who encountered and threw down the 57 year old Suresh Bhai Patel under suspicion has been arrested. But SureshBhai is partially paralyzed. We can all understand how the family feels as we all have had our parents come here from India and gone for morning and evening walks and if something like this happens to us we know how devastating it can be. I wish he has a speedy recovery.
I think there is a serious problem in how the cops are being trained. They might be told over and over again that danger can come from the places you assume the least. And they would be extrapolating that to all levels.
I believe this could happen to anyone so while we condemn this action by the cop, we should also see what to do (or not to do) to avoid such situations from arising because the cops came there after a suspicion call by the neighbor and that is their duty, attending to such calls. I wonder if this neighbor has never seen anyone walking in the neighborhood before, or more precisely a brown Indian walking. May be there are paranoid neighbors in that part of the country.
So what can we do to avoid such incidents.
- Understand that Neighbors in new neighborhood can be paranoid if you walk around without being duly introduced to them.
- Give clear instructions to your folks when they go out for walking because in India when elderly folks go for relaxing walks they often reduce their pace when they see something around and stand and look at it. That is how we walk in India.
- The neighbor who called said that Sureshbhai was peering into the garage. He might have just stood there as we do in india and if a garage was open he might have looked. But it does not take much for a paranoid neighbor to turn a glance into look and then into a peer and call the cops.
- May be for the first few times do not allow them to walk alone, especially if it is the first time they are here.
- Now if a cop comes and questions at anytime, you should never walk away from them. Just go with them and do as they say.
- Always carry an ID, I would suggest even a badge like the one we carry at office and hang them on their trousers or ver the neck. It is not just for this, but as they are elderly, going on walks without an identity is not at all advisable, especially in a area that you are new to.
- Never ever put your hands in the pocket because even cops in these places can be paranoid. Always keep the hand up in sight for the cops to see. I have heard a story about a guy (young software engineer) who was driving first time in the US and got pulled over and he stepped out and walked with a smile to the cop and you can imagine the consequence.
- I think it also has to do with how we portray cops in India. The movies and media in India project indian cops as corrupt and useless which I think is very bad. Yes there are issues but our media makes a buck on that as well. So when folks comes from India to US it is important we also give them a class and an idea of how law enforcement works in our country and try to fill in the gaps. It will only help us as a community.
- Finally not related to this incident but I also want to add that we should all tell the folks from India that never go near a kid and try to cuddle them. It happens especially with elderly folks in India and they might do that here out of cuteness, and we know how people might take that. Even Indians living here for a while do not prefer other people touching their kids even if it is in the purest intentions.
By saying these I am in no way siding the cop or saying that the cop is innocent. But the fact is Sureshbhai is partially paralyzed and that demands that we find ways, precautions we can take to avoid such incidents. This might not happen in places like bay area where South Asians are an integral part of the community. I am not sure about this particular neighborhood in Alabama where this happened.
Even though we say US is so diverse, traveling across US I have realized that there are many places in US where I stop for gas and find that we are the only dark skinned people there and apparently the people there have never eaten anything from the thandoor or a roti or butter chicken, they only know burgers and pizza. They only know people by their skin color, not even my nationality, forget culture and language and mannerisms. But even there I expect cops to know about it well enough.
So we need to really understand what necessary training are these cops getting to understand the ethinic diversity in communities and behaviors of people. We need to specifically see what training this particular cop would have got in regard to understanding the south asian community. And if there is a gap it should be addressed.
As the investigation proceeds we will know more on why and how this happened and if there was ‘race’ in play here. I saw the video and felt it was very brutal and very sad. but I don’t know if I am biased because I know someone like Sureshbhai cannot be a threat. The video in my opinion clearly shows the cop was reacting the way he was probably trained. But his training in my opinion was only good to act in danger, not to judge if the action he did is necessary.
May be as the South Asian community in these places should also connect more with police services and even fire stations because we have our ways of life and it is important we also connect with people in the neighborhood, assimilate and be part of community than being in our own groups. If we are not welcome that is a different thing altogether and need to be discussed. I know it is easy to write when it has happened to someone else. But when we call for justice we also have to take measures for this to not happen to one of us in the future.