This article was written by Jai Patel, a 19-year-old Gun Violence Prevention Activist and sophomore at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey who majors Criminal Justice and Journalism. He is a Jersey City Native and he is the son of two former Indian Immigrants who are now Citizens. As a gun violence prevention activist, he has worked with officials of all levels, organized multiple protests, and worked in close conjunction with leaders all across the Country to end gun violence in New Jersey and the United States.
In less than 24 hours, the United States of America had experienced two major mass shootings — one at a shopping center in El Paso, Texas filled with students and one at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, as people were enjoying their night. The American Dream that immigrants worldwide have expected for themselves and their children has proven to be a farce. I am a Jersey City, New Jersey Native but my parents immigrated to America from Mumbai and Surat. Immigrants from India first arrived in the United States in small numbers during the early 19th century, primarily as low-skilled farm laborers. However, in recent decades the population has grown substantially. Now, as of 2015, there are over 2.4 million Indian immigrants residing in the United States. Compared to the overall foreign and native-born populations, immigrants from India on average are significantly better educated, more likely to be employed in management positions, and have higher household incomes. Indian Americans never would have imagined they would be targeted by armed domestic terrorists in the United States, a country that they risked everything for.
I was 12 years old on August 5th, 2012 when a mass shooting claimed the lives of six innocent Sikhs at a Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. I was too young to understand why people who looked like me were killed. I was afraid and I was angry. America’s greatest strength is the diversity of her populus. This hate crime gave a new meaning to being apart of the larger South Asian Community, it meant living with constant fear. My parents and relatives were beyond shocked, but they understood what this shooting meant to being brown in America. They understood what the lack of media coverage meant. The shooter, a white supremacist, was not prohibited from purchasing a gun even though he had received a discharge from the US Army “under other than honorable conditions.” Additionally, Wisconsin state law permits people to carry their guns in temples and other places of worship unless they are personally notified that carrying firearms is prohibited by the property owner or occupant. Amardeep Kaleka, whose father founded the temple and was killed during the attack, confirmed that there was no such indication on the property of the Gurdwara. Families, including my own, hoped that this was the last hate crime against the South Asian Community. But they were wrong.
On February 22, 2017, two Indian men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were shot at a restaurant in Olathe, Kansas. The shooter reportedly yelled “get out of my country” and “terrorist” before firing. It was horrific to see that the motive behind this hate crime echoed the xenophobic messaging of President Trump. This senseless and hateful shooting and the lack of Media Coverage that followed, boiled my blood. No one cared about these men who were targeted specifically based on what they looked like, Kuchibhotla and Madasani were educated men who came to the United States on a work visa. But only one of them got to go back to India and see his family. Kuchibhotla died without being able to see his family ever again.
Today, I remember those lost in Wisconsin and Kansas. As one of the only Indian-American youth Gun Violence Prevention Activists, the movement is hard to navigate.
Gun Violence Prevention is predominantly white and black, and shootings like Wisconsin and Kansas are never talked about on a National scale. That is why Indians need to stand up and join the movement. The issue of Gun Violence isn’t impersonal to the Indian Community as we have seen in Wisconsin and Kansas. The Indian Community in America is large, robust, and important populous, and it is time we use our educational and financial privilege for change in America.
I was informed about the El Paso Shooting while attending an annual Gun Violence Prevention Conference in Washington, DC in a room full of 4,000 Americans. Events for the day were cancelled, and volunteers from Texas were taken to a different room to process what was happening in their beloved state. This was before they would find out that 22 people would never make it home, and that another 26 were urgently rushed to the Emergency Room.
But my tears, my thoughts, and my prayers were not benefiting El Paso at all. I became motivated to mobilize volunteers for a candlelight vigil outside the White House, and then march to the Trump Hotel and the Capitol Building. I channelled my anger into action, and what better place to do so than our Nation’s Capital?
The vigil in front of the White House was powerful and the emotions of the 500 volunteers who had answered the call to action, could be felt in the air. With the help of a Baltimore Student Leader Josh Turner, I organized our large group of over 500 volunteers, to take our emotions to the streets of Washington, DC. We chanted, “No More Silence, End Gun Violence” and once we got to the Trump Hotel, we ensured that our President and his patrons knew that “Love trumps Hate.” Passing tourists and cars gave us their support as we marched towards the Capitol Building. Unfortunately, the Capitol Police did not want to join our peaceful protest, and we were ordered to disperse. But the message was clear, our elected officials must act.
This is not about mental health, it’s not about video games, it’s not about movies. Those are all NRA (National Rifle Association) talking points. This is about easy access to guns. If President Trump actually means what he says, he should call Majority Leader McConnell today to get a public pledge from him that he will call the Senate back immediately and take up bipartisan background checks and Red Flag legislation. We’ve had enough politics. It’s time for action.