Defense Attorneys Go “Full Xenophobia” in Blaming Indian Grandfather for Being Paralyzed By Cop

Sureshbhai Patel enters the courthouse in the trial against his assailant, Alabama police officer Eric Parker, who paralyzed Patel following a routine pedestrian stop. (Photo credit: AP/Brynn Anderson)
Sureshbhai Patel enters the courthouse in the trial against his assailant, Alabama police officer Eric Parker, who paralyzed Patel following a routine pedestrian stop. (Photo credit: AP/Brynn Anderson)

This is absolutely disgusting.

58-year-old Sureshbhai Patel was out for a morning walk this February in the neighbourhood where his son lives, when he was stopped by Alabama police officer Eric Parker. Parker was responding to a 911 call about a “suspicious” “skinny Black guy” in the neighbourhood. Dashcam video shows that within minutes of Parker confronting Patel, the police officer senselessly and violently throws Patel to the ground, leaving the elderly man permanently paralyzed (video after the jump).

Parker was charged with excessive police force over the summer. However, last month that first trial ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury: 10 male jury members — none Black — voted to acquit, while the lone hold-outs were the jury’s sole two Black women members.

This week, a second trial began against Alabama police officer Eric Parker. And, this time round, Parker’s defense appears to be going “full xenophobia”. reports that Parker’s defense attorneys began opening statements yesterday by arguing that Patel was responsible for his own assault and paralysis because he doesn’t speak fluent English.

Defense attorney Robert Tuten this time told the jury that the escalation of force was largely the fault of Patel.

“When you come to the U.S. we expect you to follow our laws and speak our language,” said Tuten. “Mr. Patel bears as much responsibility for this as anyone.”

…He added: “It’s unfortunate that he didn’t speak English. But in America that’s the language that we speak.”

Patel speaks Gujarati, and — like more than one-third of AAPI — is limited English proficient. He reportedly tried to convey this to Parker during the stop, saying “no English” and “Indian” multiple times and also trying to gesture officers to the house of his US citizen son.

Parker’s defense claims that Patel deserved the assault against his body because he was uncompliant to Parker’s orders. Parker’s attorneys say that Patel walked away from Parker during the stop, and that the violent takedown was prompted by Patel shoving his hands into his pockets. writes:

Tuten said Patel recognized the police, but walked off anyway . “He refused to take his hands out of his pockets,” said Tuten.

Tuten argued that police can’t know if a person is reaching for a gun or a knife or a razor blade. He said police are trained to control the hands for officer safety.

“There are people out there in the world that will kill a police officer just because they are a cop,” Tuten told the jury.

The focus on possible weapons wasn’t not much different that his opening statement last month. But this time Tuten said:”If you act like a criminal you are going to be treated like one.”

All you have to do is watch the video embedded above to know that this is utter bullshit. Patel is seen in dashcam video standing with his hands behind his back. He makes no movement whatsoever in the moments before Parker throws him to the ground.

There’s a lot we can talk about in the case of the police brutality assault against Sureshbhai Patel.

We can talk about the anti-blackness associated with a neighbour calling police on Patel because they suspected a Black interloper in a relatively affluent suburban neighbourhood, and how this case of mistaken identity comments on the precarious racial position AAPI occupy.

We can question the intersection of respectability politics with the perpetuation of a racially coded police state, where Black and Brown civilians are disproportionately penalized for failing or refusing to “hop to” for White authority. On this topic, we might also reference the recent assault by a police officer on a Black female student who was guilty of nothing more than using her cellphone in class.  On this topic, we might also note that openly violent, anti-authoritarian acts of non-compliance have been openly praised when committed by White citizens; whereas Black and Brown people of colour who exercise routine resistance are subjected to state-sanctioned corporal punishment.

I’d like to also highlight here the nativism of Parker’s defense tactics. America does not have an official language. 77% of AAPI primarily speak a non-English language in their household. Patel was in the United States on a visitor’s visa, and is a national of India; as such, there were no civic or linguistic requirements for his entry into this country.

The argument invoked by Parker’s defense is xenophobic and seethingly nativist, and is rooted in Other-izing Patel as an Indian national, a non-White man, and a limited English proficient speaker. It relies upon the implication that someone more assimilated would “know our laws” and “speak our language”, and therefore that Patel deserved his assault because he is “not American enough”.

This is unabashed dogwhistle anti-Asian racism.

The 19th and early 20th century of America is well-known for its unabashed anti-immigrant nativism and racism. I’m starting to wonder if the 21st century will rival that era for how we are increasingly mainstreaming some shocking levels of open xenophobia.

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