PALO ALTO, California — As cities around the U.S. burned and raged over the brutal slaying of Minnesota resident George Floyd, who was killed by a white police officer, a group of Indian Americans organized a silent demonstration May 31 afternoon here to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It just saddens me to see people losing their lives because of their color. This is a show of solidarity. We cannot just stand by and watch this happen over and over again,” Madhan Babu, a technical architect, told India-West.
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American male, was killed May 25 as former Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin and others pulled him from his car and pushed him to the ground while handcuffing him. Chauvin then placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, as the victim cried for help, repeatedly saying: “I can’t breathe.”
Chauvin continued his position even after Floyd became unresponsive. Three police officers, Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, stood by and watched Floyd increasingly becoming unresponsive. A group of bystanders shouted to police that Floyd was dying.
All four have been fired from the force. Chauvin has been charged with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Several organizations have called for Chauvin’s charges to be elevated to second degree murder, alleging that the incident was premeditated. An initial autopsy report concluded that underlying conditions were a factor in Floyd’s death.
A study by researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois — published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last August — analyzed crime data from across the U.S. from 2013 to 2018. The study concluded that 1 out of every 1,000 African American males can expect to be killed by police. The risk of being killed by police peaks between ages 20 to 35 for African American males.
By contrast, 39 out of every 100,000 white males can expect to be killed by police officers, according to the study.
The May 31 demonstration in Palo Alto was organized in a grass-roots manner by Karpagam Narayanan and Umesh Mewari, who started talking to their friends a day earlier and then posting the event on the Facebook group “Palo Alto Desi.” More than 100 people gathered at Lytton Square, observing social distancing protocols and wearing face masks as they held up signs, and observed eight minutes of silence. Several then kneeled, a classic symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Palo Alto police stayed in squad cars about a block away from the demonstration. The event was marred slightly by a white male who came through shouting “All Lives Matter,” a statement that has been associated with white supremacy.
Narayanan told India-West: “My colleague, who is African American, asked me what he could tell his son about what was happening. I didn’t know how to answer initially.”
“But I told him to tell his son that there are good people in the world,” she said. “We must show the next generation that we care.”
She added: “South Asians need to show their support to other minority groups. It is wrong that people are treated differently because of their skin color.”
Mewari told India-West that while he hoped the demonstration would be peaceful, he understood the rage fueling rioting and looting across the nation. Curfews have been mandated in several cities. National Guard units have been deployed in nearly half of U.S. states.
“A riot is the language of the unheard,” said Mewari, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ashok Srinivasan, administrator for the Facebook group “Palo Alto Desi,” told India-West he had written to the offices of California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents Palo Alto in the House. He has not yet received a response.
Srinivasan said he was in the U.S. in 1991 when African American Rodney King was severely beaten by 14 Los Angeles Police Department officers, who used batons against him at least 50 times. Four officers involved in the incident were later charged with police brutality. Three were acquitted by an all-white jury in 1992, sparking off several days of rioting.
“We watch this happen over and over again, as police officers are arrested for excessive use of force, but then acquitted,” said Srinivasan. “This was completely unnecessary. A man was crying out for help as he died.”
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