Indian Grandfather Paralyzed by Police for Looking Like a ‘Skinny Black Guy’

by Rishika Reddy

Police in Madison, Alabama injured a 57-year-old Indian grandfather, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. Sureshbhai Patel, a permanent resident of the U.S. was slammed to the ground by the police and hospitalized with a fused vertebrae.

Patel arrived in the country a week before the incident to help his son and daughter-in-law with their 17-month-old-son.

While Patel was taking a stroll around the neighborhood, he was stopped and questioned by two officers who claimed to be responding to a suspicious person call. The neighbor identified Patel as a “skinny black guy” whom he had never seen before. The caller said the Patel was acting suspiciously by looking into windows and going through the trash.

As the officers were questioning 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 surgery to fuse two vertebrae.

His son Chirag Patel, an engineer who described his town as affluent, found his father paralyzed at the hospital.

Henry Sherrod, the family’s attorney, stated that the Patel family is suing for damages, including Patel’s medical bills. Sherrod, civil rights attorney, criticized the officer’s excessive use of force and according to reports, he said “there is nothing suspicious about Mr. Patel other than he has brown skin.”

There is nothing suspicious about Mr. Patel other than he has brown skin.”

Last summer, a similar incident took place when Chuamtoli Huq, a Bangladeshi-American woman was questioned and arrested by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers for waiting for her children and husband on the sidewalk outside a restaurant in Times Square, N.Y.

Huq, a human rights attorney, was dressed in South Asian attire when the officers approached her and began questioning. Huq was charged for blocking the sidewalk, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. In spite of leaving the sidewalk completely clear, the officers pushed her against the wall and handcuffed her.

Huq later filed a lawsuit in federal court in September 2014, alleging that the NYPD officers used “unreasonable and wholly unprovoked force” when they arrested her without probable cause.

As a young woman of color and as someone who has dealt with police brutality, I wanted to know how Huq felt about Patel’s encounter with the police.

I was deeply saddened to hear about how Mr. Patel was brutalized by the Alabama police,” Huq said. “It is not uncommon for South Asian grandparents to stay with their families, especially to spend time with their grandchildren, and they usually walk in the neighborhood for exercise, as did my grandmother when she stayed with my mother. To imagine you can be brutalized for doing something so normal is shocking. That is what happened to me, except thankfully I wasn’t paralyzed. I was waiting on the sidewalk for my husband to bring back my kids from the restroom. You never imagine that this could happen.
What this incident shows is the importance of training especially in dealing with LEP communities, Limited English Proficient. Mr. Patel explained he did not speak English, and could not understand their questions, yet, they brutalized him anyway.”

Incidents of police abuse have circulated in the media and it’s not a surprise Huq has witnessed over-policing of minority groups around the city and the country.

“Over-policing of minority groups is a serious problem in NYC and nationally,” she said. “President Barack Obama has even convened a Taskforce on Policing and Department of Justice will be hosting community panels to hear from members on improving police-community relations. This is why you can see protests throughout the country to stop this brutality on communities of color. Black communities often are the most violent victims of policing, but other communities experience harassment as well, as I did, as a Muslim woman of color.
Interestingly, the news report indicated that a neighbor thought he was a ‘skinny black guy’ and so in our racist society regardless of your background, if you are not white, you are seen as black. This is why it is so important for all communities of color to work together to speak up against this over-policing.”

Being humiliated and arrested in public can be shocking to anyone, and no one can agree more than Huq.

Being unlawfully arrested, and separated from my children, and having to sit in prison for close to nine hours, and having the officer lean on my body, all during the holy month of Ramadan was traumatizing to me and still is,” Huq said. “It has affected my sleep and health. I find strength in the hope that with all the organizing that is happening post Ferguson we will see some meaningful changes.”

Since over-policing and police brutality has become nationwide problems, especially in minority communities, Huq and South Asian organizations have come together to recommend methods to police departments so they can understand their communities better.

We need strong policies to regulate police in how they deal with minority communities. There are local solutions in terms of increased oversight over local police departments. We need to develop training [sessions] with community based organizations on interacting with communities of color, around race, gender, religion and language.
In my lawsuit, I am demanding required training to interact with the South Asian and Muslim community, as well as a gender sensitivity training. Also, we need to speak up against the increased militarization of local police as we saw in Ferguson with tear gas and tanks. This creates a heightened tension between police and community, which leads to these severe attacks. I learned that the arresting officer in my case was a military contractor. Military tactics should not be used by local police on residents.”

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Originally published at www.browngirlmagazine.com on February 17, 2015.