Why did being "skinny," "black" or walking in a neighborhood become perceived as the sign of a perpetrator or criminal? Why did a communication barrier give an officer the prerogative to throw a fragile grandfather to the ground? What about a grandfather's walk through his neighborhood, could have caused a neighbor to feel so uncomfortable as to call the police? The answer to these questions lies in the innate nature of prejudice and oppression. By better understanding the implications of prejudice and oppression, we become more aware of it and more able to address it within our own lives.
On Thursday, February 12, 2015 a grandfather from India was thrashed to the ground as result of taking a stroll through his neighborhood. Fifty-seven year old Sureshbhai Patel was walking in his neighborhood when a neighbor called the police station describing what he saw to be a "skinny black guy" whom he hasn't seen before. When the police arrived at the scene, Sureshbhai spoke very little English but tried to communicate as best he could. When the officer asked "Where are you headed?" Sureshbhai explained as best he could. To this the officer replied "I can't understand you" and then proceeded to ask about the address at which Sureshbahi Patel resides. Sureshbhai began to point in the direction of his home to better answer the officer's question. Just moments after this interaction, the officer held Sureshbhai's hands and then threw him to the floor. When the police then demanded him to get up, the grandfather had suffered injury and therefore could not move. Below is a link to the full video of the encounter provided by AL.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Vgqe0SBLM.
This incident goes beyond the issue of miscommunication and appearance. We have clearly seen that people of all backgrounds are attacked. From Trayvon Martin, an innocent son to Sureshbhai Patel, an innocent grandfather. Prejudice goes beyond age. It goes beyond race. It could happen to anyone.
So what should we do about it?
In addition to holding the officer Eric Parker accountable for his actions, we as a society can be more cognizant of our own reasoning in our daily activities. Prejudice is often not as transparent. It's often subtle, formed by one's subconscious. In this unfortunate occurrence, prejudice was not only depicted by the officer but also by the neighbor that called the police. In fact, to find danger based off of one's race and unfamiliarity is akin to assuming all people unlike you are suspicious.
While we may not have seen prejudice so clearly depicted in our routine lives, many of us have witnessed it to some extent. For example, recently I attended a retreat for UC Berkeley's student leaders in service where we spent the day discussing prejudice and oppression. In a community like Berkeley, one would expect to almost never see or hear about accounts of oppression and prejudice. Contrary to this perception, I learned that it occurs everywhere in the world around us. Often times it's just either subtle or not discussed. However, by identifying prejudice and questioning it, we come one step closer to addressing it.
If there is anything that can be learned from this unfortunate incidence, it is to better understand the basis of our own judgments and the intentions of those around us. This realization, in and of itself will help reduce the presence of prejudice. In the wise words of Eckhart Tolle "Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don't see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence."
Al.com. "Entire Video of Alabama Police Throwing Indian Grandfather to the Ground." YouTube. YouTube, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.
Candea, Ben. "Alabama Police Officer Arrested, Accused of Injuring Indian Man in Dashcam Video."
ABC News. ABC News Network, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.
Chappell, Bill. "Alabama Police Officer Arrested Over Severe Injuries To Indian Man." NPR. NPR, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.