On 16 Jan 2016, A federal judge in the US acquitted Eric Parker, the policeman charged for assault on an Indian man. The judge threw out the case against Eric Parker after his two previous trials ended in hung juries. In the judge’s opinion, evidence presented during the two trials did not eliminate the reasonable doubt that the policeman was guilty of a crime. Mr Parker had told jurors that Mr Patel’s actions and appearance were ‘in sequence’ with those of a burglar. He added that Mr Patel tried walking away and wouldn’t answer questions when officers approached him, and that he was suspicious when the man reached for his pockets and when he pulled one of his hands free during a pat-down.
After President Barack Obama made two rather unfortunate speeches alleging religious discrimination in India, a Madison police officer seriously injured an Indian grandfather during a police stop on 06 February 2015. The incidents showed that the emperor is the one now without his clothes.
Sureshbhai Patel’s story is the reality of many South Asian immigrant families living in North America. His son Chirag Patel, immigrated from a small farming town in India and worked his way through and settled down and started a family in the suburbs of Madison, Alabama. Owning a home in the upscale area is the “American dream” most immigrants from India look to accomplish. After settling down in his new home, he invited his father to come to the US to look after his young son, hoping to mutually benefit from his stay. Thus Sureshbhai Patel began his life in the US.
On that morning, Sureshbhai Patel went out on a stroll in the locality of his son’s home. He was dressed in Indian clothes and as per reports, someone in the area called the police and informed that a skinny black man was walking on the street near his home, close to the garage. The caller said that he saw him yesterday too, walking very close to their home and that he lived in the area for the past four years and had never seen this man before. The caller added that he was about to go to work and was nervous to leave his wife alone while the man walked around outside. The caller said the Patel was acting suspiciously by looking into windows and going through the trash.
Two Police officers on patrol duty, trainer Parker and his trainee Andrew Slaughter, were immediately alerted. The officers reached the spot 8 AM. They approached Sureshbhai Patel, who walking and stopped him for questioning. As the officers were questioning Sureshbhai Patel, he repeatedly said “no English,” “walking,” and “India” as he pointed to his son’s house by repeating the house number. The officers claimed Patel put his hands in his pockets, which escalated into slamming him to the ground. The incident left Patel with a bloody face, and in need of cervical fusion surgery to fuse two vertebrae. Sureshbhai is on his way to recovery and regained feeling in his arms and legs.
This was obviously a case of police using excessive force. Some argued that the police officer had no cause to stop Patel on a public sidewalk and search him, which may be a bit farfetched, especially considering the security scenario around the world.
As usual the Indian media went full blast, criticising the American President and its police forces. Arnab Goswami (most vociferous Indian News anchor) was at his day’s best and his strained vocal cords and as if to pacify him, Alabama’s Governor Robert Bentley, apologized to the government of India for the actions of the Madison police officers. The Governor Bentley also ordered the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to launch a parallel investigation — the Federal Bureau of Investigation had already begun its own probe — into the ‘excessive force’ that left Sureshbhai Patel, 57, partially paralyzed.
“I deeply regret the unfortunate use of excessive force by the Madison Police Department on Sureshbhai Patel and for the injuries sustained by Mr. Patel. I sincerely hope that Mr. Patel continues to improve and that he will regain full use of his legs,” Bentley said in a letter to India’s general consul in Atlanta, Ajit Kumar. “Finally, and most important, please accept our sincere apology for this tragic incident to your government, Mr. Patel, and the citizens of India who reside and work in our state,” the letter went on.
What are the lessons for the people visiting on staying with their children and grandchildren in US or Canada?
During the morning hours, especially in the summer, there are many such grandparents taking a stroll in the area. The children by then would have left for their work and the grandchildren to the school. One of the best use of this free time is to take a walk, enjoying the nature’s beauty and breathing fresh air, on a sidewalk, that too without the fear of dirt or garbage on the path and feeling safe that there would be no vehicle to hit you or dogs to bite or bark at you.
While walking our dog in the morning, one has observed some newly arrived folks with a tendency to look deep into the houses in the neighbourhood, with an inquisitiveness to record the proceedings. Some stare at the women, especially at those women who are dressed to beat the summer heat. Some inspect the garbage cans placed outside the homes, as they see many articles which would have never been thrown back home (most would have been sold to the scavenger for a few bucks).
These actions are sure to set some alarm bells ringing and also some uncivilised reactions. This is mostly so as people value their privacy and are sensitive about any breaches of their privacy. These reactions are immediately labelled ‘racial’ and claims are made that these reactions were because of the skin colour.
This is where the children or grandchildren have a role to play in educating the parents or grandparents about the society and culture of US/Canada. They need to be briefed in detail about the behaviour expected, especially when on a stroll on the road or the park or while visiting the malls or shopping centres. The educated folks must do a detailed study about it (the Internet is the best source), prior to their arrival in US/Canada.