An Indian American-owned gas station in South Portsmouth, Kentucky, was defaced early morning Feb. 1 by a vandal who spray-painted swastikas, “white power,” and racist language on its exterior.
The vandal, who is still at large, also spray-painted the word “leave” and “f**k you” on the store, called the Pit Stop.
Kentucky State Police said they are investigating the case as criminal mischief, and plan on working with county prosecutors to discuss a possible hate crime charge, as reported by local news station WSAZ.
Gurpreet ‘Gary’ Singh Bath, who owns the Pit Stop, told India-West he was baffled as to why anyone would target his gas station and convenience store. “I’m the first Punjabi guy in this neighborhood. But this has never happened before.”
Singh has owned the Pit Stop and another convenience store nearby since 2013, when he immigrated to the area from Toronto, Canada.
South Portsmouth is situated in Greenup County, Kentucky. More than 97 percent of the area’s residents are white, according to 2012 county data. The Asian American population in the state of Kentucky is a little more than 1 percent.
But the state – with a population of just over four million – ranks #8 in the number of hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2016, according to Uniform Crime Report data. Seventy-nine law enforcement agencies reported 206 bias-related crimes that year.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate-related violence, has identified 23 active hate groups in Kentucky, and ranks the state #14 in the number of hate groups nationwide.
Nicole Fiske, who works at the Pit Stop, told India-West she was “very surprised” by the attack. Fiske said this is the first incident of racism she has heard of in the small town.
Fiske came in to the store that morning, and said she was disgusted by what she saw. “There was a lot of vulgar language,” she said.
“Gary has been very good to the community. Lots of people like him here, and they have come in to show their support,” she said.
Singh frequently donates items to local churches’ food drives. “Whenever they ask me, I help,” he said.
Singh said he has never experienced racism in the five years he has lived and worked in the state. “It is really a hillbilly area but people have always been nice to me.”
Jamie Litteral, an employee at Singh’s other store, told India-West a lot of people have stepped in to support Singh. “Around here, it’s all family, and we all pretty much take care of each other. My boss is a friend and a good man who gives and gives to his community.”
"It's sad that in America in this day and age we're still doing this," Barb Glockner, who lives nearby and frequently visits the store, told WSAZ news. "It should not be happening."
Singh told India-West that Marathon Gas, the parent company for Pit Stop, told him they would cover all damages – which he estimated at around $600 – and sent workers around immediately to paint over the racist graffiti.
The Indian American small businessman said he hoped security camera footage would help identify the vandal. But he added that Kansas State Police have told him they are having trouble identifying a suspect, since the vandal was masked during the attack on the store.
Singh said he wants to see a suspect arrested. “He should be punished for doing this. I don’t want to see other people doing this.”
“But I will forgive him if he says sorry.”