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Bias and stereotype let to dominate

Posted in View Point


Published on February 20, 2015 with No Comments

The horrific incident in Madison, Alabama, where a 57-year-old new immigrant from India was assaulted and arrested by the local police, has made headlines not only in North America but also in South Asia .
Ever since those brutal attacks in Ferguson non-whites in the United States routinely face police brutality, more so, if they conform to physical stereotypes – way they are built or the clothes they wear, and Indian do stand out due to what is mainly described as “Indian hair cut,” “ East Indian type of pants”.
Suresh Patel, Aged 57, came to USA just two weeks ago to stay with his son. Last week Suresh Patel came out for taking walk outside his son’s home. Meantime some residents looked at him roaming in the streets and complained to police as ‘Unidentified person roaming in streets looking at their homes with suspicion’.

Madison police arrived at the scene and stopped Suresh Patel and started questioning and the police officer restored to brutality, as the complainant further added that he had seen Patel walking around in the area for two days. That was good enough for the cops to identify Suresh Patel as a “trouble maker” even though he created none. Perhaps his appearance and attire overshadowed all rationale thinking that the cops were supposed to exhibit.
It is clear that Suresh Patel’s “crime” was that he looked different. Is it an acceptable idea that most Americans would be off to work and anybody walking around in the day time is looking for that elusive opportunity to “break in”? And if you are spotted, not once but twice in two days, walking around, looking curious, then you are in trouble, because, according to normative standards you can be up to no good! In Suresh Patel’s case, the neighbour and the police exhibited both bias and stereotype. Personal preferences, like or dislike, especially the tendency to be impartial was interfered and preconceived ideas that attributes certain characteristics to all the members of class or set “as trouble maker” was allowed to dominate.
The cops confronted Suresh Patel and when he stammered because he did not know English, assaulted him and pushed him down on to the pavement. A lean, skinny character was treated like a dummy for practice by one of the cops as if he was trying to impart some training to other accompanying colleagues and score some “brownie points”.
Enquiries by media from India t were prompt to depute teams to Madison revealed that Suresh Patel was out for a walk from his son’s home in the same neighbourhood, but then how would an American cop show his machismo? Suresh Patel was badly injured and had to be taken to the hospital, and since then lies paralysed in the hospital and Madison Police attributes his condition to excessive use of force by the cop.
Not to say, the police in any other country and for that matter in India is perfect, but US has had set bench marks and such incidences only create an opportunity for other countries to closely scrutinise US.
US have to provide answers to three most obvious questions. How often are Indians victimised by local law enforcement agencies in the U.S.? “Excessive Force” –is it only reserved for non whites? Has US learnt a lesson to be moderate while handling such cases?
Answer to the first question has to be based on facts: most recent and notable case of an Indian national left to the mercies of American law enforcement rule books was Devyani Khobragade, whose diplomatic credentials could not save her from an invasive strip search by the U.S. Marshals. In December 2010 former Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Meera Shankar, was pulled out of a passenger security line and subjected to an intimate pat-down at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Mississippi, an incident that once again fomented anger in New Delhi. In yet another incidence, in February 2011 Krittika Biswas, daughter of the Indian Vice-Consul in New York, was handcuffed publicly in her school, wrongfully arrested and detained with criminals overnight on allegations that she had sent obscene e-mails to a teacher, which were ultimately proven false.
Can demography of Alabama be the contributing reason too? In US, Indians generally stay or buy houses where there is sizeable Indian population and Alabama is not known to be culturally diverse, making neighbours less aware and hence lesser tolerant to “skinny black guy”; and that cop taking liberty to perform stunts on a perceived to be a weaker opponent.
Suresh Patel’s son too was expected to be more cautious. He certainly would have been aware of his father’s inability to converse in English, and would have done him a great service by providing him a slip having his address and preparing him to show the slip in case he got lost.
The chain of events is highly unfortunate. Suresh Patel will probably swear never to visit US again. Chances are that his family will get justice and compensation; however that doesn’t mean that racism and police brutality will disappear. Atleast a message that the system will not tolerate it must be sent.


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