UPDATE: Dhriti Narayan, a 13 year old student, was walking home from the library when a man plowed his car into a group of pedestrians in a hate crime. Friends of Dhriti Narayan’s family have started an online fundraiser to help cover her medical and rehab expenses. Please give and share.
UPDATE: Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice held a unity and solidarity vigil (May 2)
Does even a week go by without an incident of hate violence in this country? These days, we are barely finding out the names of the victims of one hate massacre when we hear of another attack. We are simultaneously processing outrage and sorrow, while fighting desensitization and numbness.
This weekend, as I heard about the news of the Poway synagogue shooting, I was also learning more about the April 24th car crash that happened in Sunnyvale, California. Eight people were injured when Isaiah Peoples deliberately crashed his car into a group of pedestrians at the busy intersection of El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Avenue.
One of those injured is Dhriti Narayan, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Sunnyvale Middle School. Dhriti, her brother, and her father were all injured in the crash. Dhriti has fared the worst. She has life-threatening injuries including brain trauma and a fractured pelvis.
Police are treating the crash as a hate crime. At a recent press conference, Phan Ngo, chief of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, revealed that the driver “intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith.”
Every act of hate is horrific for both the individuals targeted and for the communities to which they belong. As someone who has worked with hate crime survivors and on anti-hate violence initiatives for over two decades, I have developed over time a protective armor to keep myself focused in times of community crises. There is a familiar cycle that many of us have unfortunately become accustomed to: help survivors and families with legal and mental health needs; speak out in the media; press for hate crime investigations; hold vigils; ask for support from other communities. Repeat.
Yet what happened to Dhriti pierced through my defensive shield, and I find myself heartbroken. I have a child close to Dhriti’s age. She is part of an Indian immigrant family like mine. She was just taking a walk — returning from the library — with her loved ones.
It is also profoundly sad to realize that Dhriti and her family join a group of Indian Americans and South Asians who have long been targeted by hate violence on the basis of their faith, national origin, and race. Early immigrant workers faced anti-Asian exclusion leagues that drove them out of places like Bellingham, Washington. In the 1980s and 1990s, Rishi Maharaj, Navroze Mody, and Sandip Patel were targeted on streets and at workplaces. Vasudev Patel, Waqar Hasan, Rais Bhuiyan, Balbir Singh Sodhi, and Sunando Sen are among the many South Asians who have faced post 9/11 backlash. Paramjit Kaur, Suveg Singh Khattra, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Ranjit Singh, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh lost their lives in 2012 when a white nationalist attacked a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. Srinivas Kuchibotla, an Indian-American engineer, was murdered at a restaurant in Kansas City by a man spewing anti-immigrant slurs within the first 100 days after Trump took office.
This climate of hate is exacerbated by hostile government policies targeting immigrants, including South Asians. These policies intend to denaturalize us, strip us of our right to work, and place us in detention jails for seeking asylum. It is clear that no marker of success will immunize us from bigotry; we can fight hate only through a commitment to anti-racism and solidarity practices.
Today, hate violence is occurring at a pace and with a frequency that is deeply jarring and unsettling. Already in 2019, just in the United States, we have witnessed hate violence, arson, and vandalism at a synagogue in San Diego, at Black churches in Louisiana, at a Hindu temple in Louisville, Kentucky, a mosque in Escondido (supposedly attacked by the same person accused in the Poway synagogue massacre), and at a hub for social justice learning, the Highlander Center.
That’s not all. In February, Mustafa Ayoubi was killed in Indianapolis after a driver followed him and yelled anti-Muslim slurs. In early April, a Hindu priest, Devendra Shukla, was punched in the face by a man who called him a “dirty Indian” while Shukla’s six-year-old daughter crouched in the backseat of their car. A few days after the car attack in Sunnyvale, four Sikh Americans were found murdered in their apartment in West Chester, Ohio; police are continuing to investigate. For months now, Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been targeted with Islamophobic rhetoric and death threats.
While the list of indignities and injustices keeps getting longer and longer, little meaningful response has come from our civic and political leaders. The President is intent on building a wall to keep Brown and Black people out while diminishing the threat of white nationalism. Elected officials stymie opportunities to create meaningful change, as evidenced by the House Judiciary Committee’s recent ineffective and traumatizing hearing on white nationalism and the reactive “anti-hate” resolution passed by the House. And Democratic presidential candidates don’t have robust plans to address white nationalism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism either.
Every act of hate violence should prompt every single one of us to ask: are we doing all that is possible? Yes, we organize anti-hate initiatives and document acts of hate in reports. We track hate groups, hold vigils for victims, and comfort family members. We advocate for hate crimes laws and community-centered restorative justice. We create hate-free zones, teach others about the diversity and humanity of our communities, and foster bridge-building opportunities. We write books and issue press releases to center the needs of survivors. We protest bans, walls, and raids. We stand by each other’s communities, and refuse to be pitted against one another. We connect the dots to show how racist policies and institutions enable interpersonal bigotry and hate, and how white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia threaten everyone’s safety and rights.
There are times when all of these efforts doesn’t seem quite enough. News of another place of worship or another family being attacked because of race, national origin, and faith prompts the same questions: Why hasn’t all of this been enough? What more needs to be done? What will it take to stop this?
For one thing, we can’t rely on a haphazard hodge podge of thoughts and prayers, weak legislation, hate crimes investigations and charges, the securitization of places of worship, and diversity trainings to fix the root causes that lead to hate violence. And we can’t expect that just a few segments of society — usually those most vulnerable — will deal with confronting hate violence, while others take the privilege of providing condemnation without action. Like gun violence and environmental disasters, hate violence is a public epidemic that requires large-scale and long-term interventions. There is so much more that we must do.
How can we protect our communities in this particular political context? What roles should government, the tech industry, the justice system, and elected leaders play? How can we create effective rapid response mechanisms and support systems for survivors in every state? How can we disrupt the industries that fan, fund, and fuel hate? How can we teach inclusive histories and cultivate true empathy from the earliest ages? How can we attend to the intergenerational trauma of enduring or bearing witness to hate violence? How can we shine a light on the root causes of hate violence? What role does each of us play in confronting hate?
These questions, and many others, are thick in the air around us, demanding to be heard and addressed, even as we move through the grief, sorrow, outrage, and numbness that we feel when someone is harmed in an act of hate.
Together, let’s send waves of energy, support, healing, and comfort to Dhriti and her family, and to all those who experience hate violence. And, let’s pledge to keep fighting for her — and for all our kindred — with everything we have. There is no other choice.