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  • Veena Rao

A brown grandfather and the Black Lives Matter movement

The Sureshbhai Patel case has proved why it is necessary for us brown folk to join forces with the Black Lives Matter movement. The neighbor who had called the cops, had reported on a “skinny black man”. To him, brown was no different than black. The fact that Patel’s family was economically successful did not matter.

Five years before video footage of George Floyd’s brutal murder under the knee of a white police officer led to a mass movement against systemic racism in the country, a similar case had whipped up shock and anger briefly before the world moved on.

It was a case that made racial prejudices in the deep south highly conspicuous. It received some media attention at the time, but not many Americans remember the brown victim or the white perpetrator in uniform.

Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old Indian grandfather who had arrived from India only days earlier, was taking a stroll in front of his son’s home in Madison, Alabama on Feb. 6, 2015, when a neighbor called the cops on a “skinny black man wearing a white or light-colored sweater, jeans, and a toboggan hat, walking around close to the garage”.

Minutes later, Patel was approached by two police officers on the sidewalk. They asked Patel for identification. Patel told them he didn’t speak English (at least five times), and tried to indicate where his son lived.

Video recordings from two police dashboard cameras show officer Eric Parker slamming Patel to the ground, face first. The frail, mild-mannered retired farmer was left paralyzed on the ground, one minute and 41 seconds after the encounter began.

Patel had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance where he spent ten days, had to have surgery, and then had to be transferred to a rehabilitation center. This was confirmed by the Eleventh Circuit Judges in a recent decision rejecting immunity claims from Parker and the city of Madison.

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