On the morning after Easter April 22, Indian American scientist and community activist Sibu Nair went to check the mail at his home in Williamsville, New York, and found a racist, profanity-laden flier placed there, without an envelope.
A pair of used gloves were tossed aside the mailbox, Nair, vice president of the Hindu Cultural Society of Western New York, told India-West. The flier reads: “Take your BROWN ARMY and LEAVE OUR TOWN.” It bears a sketch of a skull with crossbones. The caption below reads: “WATCH OUT, STOP promoting Democrats.” The last line reads: “F**k You.”
“It’s scary. An individual walked up to my mailbox; they could easily walk into my house,” said Nair, who has lived in Williamsville for five years with his wife and two children.
Amherst, New York Police Chief John Askey told India-West that the incident “has all the markings of a hate crime.”
“In my 32 years on the force, I have never heard of a threat like this,” said Askey, noting that the area has a large Indian American population which is well-respected.
Amherst police have stepped up night patrolling in Nair’s neighborhood as well as the nearby Hindu Cultural Center. Askey said the investigation is very much active, but will not be identified as a hate crime until a suspect is in custody and his intent is determined, via social media postings, images on his cell phone and similar evidence.
The police chief is asking any local resident who has faced a similar type of incident to immediately contact Amherst police at (716) 689-1311.
Nair, a native of Kerala who has lived in the U.S. since 2005 and is the administrator of clinical trials at the University of Buffalo’s Department of Medicine in New York, is also a prominent local Democratic activist. He said he was asked to run for a seat on the town’s legislature, but declined.
He is instead serving as the voluntary campaign manager for Jeanne Vinal, who is running for a seat on the Erie County, New York Legislature. “Sibu is so smart and enthusiastic,” Vinal wrote in a Facebook post announcing Nair’s position in her campaign.
She noted that he has assisted with several local Democratic campaigns, is the founder/ director of the Council of Heritage and Arts of India, serves on the Erie County Arts and Culture Advisory Board, and is involved with many Indian American organizations, including Akshaya Patra, whose aim is to serve a mid-day meal at school to every low-income child in India.
Nair said he immediately notified Amherst, New York police, who sent the flier to a lab. Nair said he did not think to keep the gloves.
The lab found two sets of fingerprints, one belonging to Nair, and the other as yet unmatched by the database.
“Police have told me: ‘don’t be scared, but don’t take it as a joke,’” Nair told India-West. “I think someone is trying to shut me down. Maybe people don’t like people of color taking positions of leadership.”
“But I will not stop,” he stated.
In the five years he has lived in Williamsville, Nair said he has never before felt threatened. However, in 2017, he took the lead on organizing the local Festival of India. “A guy walked up to me and told me: ‘watch out, you could get shot,’” alleged Nair.
In a tweet posted shortly after he found the flier, Nair wrote: “The message is very clear and loud. Whoever dropped this off in my mail box wants me to leave “his/her town.”
“Guess what? I m not leaving. When they go low, we go high,” wrote Nair, adding: “By the way, I love my ‘brown army’!”