REUTERS - The shooting death of an Indian engineer and the wounding of another man in a possible hate crime at a Kansas bar has raised fears among members of the area’s fast-growing Indian-American community.
The suspected gunman, U.S. Navy veteran Adam Purinton, 51, has been charged with the premeditated murder in Olathe, just outside Kansas City, of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and the attempted murder of Alok Madasani, also 32, as well as an American who tried to intervene.
Before opening fire, Purinton is accused of shouting “get out of my country,” a bystander told the Kansas City Star.
Several members of the Kansas City area’s Indian-American community said the attack had forced them to think about their safety.
“The main reaction is shock, because this is home,” said Samarpita Bajpai, 45, who lives in suburban Overland Park and runs a non-profit Indian dance company.
Going forward, Bajpai said that for the first time in her nearly 20 years living in the Kansas City area she will try to refrain from being out late at night.
She said the local area had always been very welcoming. Through her Gurukul Dance Company, Bajpai tours U.S. cities with a troupe of 10 dancers, all of whom except her are white people with an affinity for Indian culture, she said.
The shooting comes as some members of U.S. minority groups have expressed unease with the political and social climate in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center said in a report this month hate groups proliferated in 2016 as Donald Trump’s bid for the U.S. presidency energized the radical right.
A number of Jewish leaders called on Trump to speak out against anti-Semitism following a spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centres. Trump this week called the threats horrible and he has said he rejects violence and harassment.
The greater Kansas City area, which straddles the border between the states of Missouri and Kansas, is home to about 2 million people with an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Indian-Americans, although exact figures are not available, said Vijay Ainapurapu, 45, the former president of the India Association of Kansas City.
Ainapurapu, who works in software at Sprint Corp, said by telephone that the local Indian-American community has grown about tenfold since he arrived in the Kansas City area in 2001.
Due to the shooting, he added, safety precautions are a major talking point for his group.
Ainapurapu, who came to the United States in 1998 and previously lived in Texas and California, said Kansas City had been “as welcoming as any other place in America.”
Akshay Anand, 34, the owner of the Karats jewellery store in Overland Park who is involved with the India Association of Kansas City, said he will avoid areas where he might feel at risk, including what he called neighbourhoods with low education levels.
“Everybody’s going to be extremely cautious,” said Anand, who lives a short drive from where the shooting occurred. “I think it’s going to take time for this to settle in.”
Kansas City resident Ajay Sood, 50, who teaches courses in Indian culture and ran as a write-in candidate for U.S. president last year, said he often finds native-born Americans are ignorant of his background.
Mistaking the ethnicity of Indian Americans was a hot topic after the Kansas City Star reported that the suspect said after fleeing that he had shot two Middle Eastern men.
“Most of the Americans who have never travelled outside the U.S., they cannot identify who’s a Pakistani, who’s an Indian, who’s an Afghani and who’s a Sikh,” Sood said by phone.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker