UPDATE: Alabama Cops Brutalize Indian National for Walking While Brown

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Image credit: asamnews.com

Now comes word from Aljazeera.com that a 57-year-old Indian citizen was severely injured when northern Alabama police body-slammed him to the ground for looking and acting “suspicious.”

Sureshbhai Patel, an Indian national and permanent resident of the US, had only arrived in Huntsville one week before the incident occurred. He had migrated from India to assist his son Chirag Patel, an engineer, and daughter-in-law in raising their handicapped child.

Henry F. Sherrod, a civil rights attorney from Florence, Alabama, is quoted by Aljazeera thusly:

He was just out for a walk, and apparently someone made a suspicious person call … This is a grandfather who came to help his son and daughter-in-law with their 17-month-old son who was premature and developmentally delayed.

Obviously Mr. Patel had not been in the US long enough to learn the rules: Black (or in his case Brown) men do not walk around aimlessly in “affluent” white neighborhoods in this country. He also did not know that for black (and brown) men in these neighborhoods, a uniform of some description is required (FedEx, Postal Worker, UPS Driver, Landscaper, Cable Guy, Security Guard, etc.).

Thus, because he did not know or understand the rules which govern walking while black/brown, last Friday morning Mr. Patel was stopped by two “good ole boys” of the Madison Police Department. (Madison is a leafy, wealthy suburb of Huntsville.) They cautiously approached this grandfatherly-looking brown man and told him that they were responding to a “suspicious person” call, (specifically, a “skinny black guy”), and that he, being skinny, being male, and although he was not “black” in the classic American sense of the word, he would have to do because he was certainly brown enough; and, he therefore, naturally, fit the profile.

Mr. Patel responded to Alabama’s finest with, “No English, No English” and “India” as he pointed back toward his son’s palatial home. He did not know (or could not articulate) the house’s full address but repeated the house’s street number several times as well.

Well….. now the cops were really suspicious. Indeed, they had just discovered just enough “probable cause” to justify anything which might follow this initial stop. Indeed, looked at from their perspective, what followed is, well, quite “reasonable”: Here’s a brown man in a white neighborhood — who doesn’t (or claims not to) even speak English! Now, his lack of English-speaking skills alone…well, that’s suspicious in and of itself. Again…probable cause.

Then (without so much as a “by your leave” to or from Mr. Patel), these two protectors and servers began to vigorously “search and frisk” Mr. Patel. But, again, obviously oblivious of the Rules of Road in post-racial and colorblind America, Mr. Patel put his hands in his pockets — the very worst thing anyone (black, white, brown or otherwise) can ever do when confronted by America’s finest. These two Alabama boys in blue immediately and summarily — naturally — picked Mr. Patel up by his waist, “leg-swiped,” and then “slammed him to the ground,” Sherrod said. (See the brutal take-down below):

The local news website AL.com reports that this self-defensive maneuver by the cops left Mr. Patel bleeding from his face, paralyzed and in need of surgery to fuse two vertebrae. At this writing, he remains hospitalized.

As for why Mr. Patel was stopped in the first place, Sherrod offered this: “I think it was because he looked brown,” he said.

On Monday, the Madison Police Department announced that the officer responsible for Patel’s injuries had been suspended, and that proper protocol demanded that the Department would (again, quite naturally) investigate itself to determine whether excessive force was, in fact, used (or necessary) in this case. The announcement did not mention, however, whether proper protocol allowed the officer’s suspension with or without pay — but we can guess, right?

Mr. Patel’s son has filed a lawsuit seeking to recover the likely exorbitant costs of his father’s medical care. Attorney Sherrod visited Mr. Patel in the hospital Tuesday, and reported that he had regained some movement of his arms, but was not yet able to make a fist or grip with his hands. Mr. Patel also has only limited use of his left leg. His right leg remains totally paralyzed, Sherrod said.

Sherrod also said that this incident evidences the fact that police brutality extends to just about anybody anywhere. More directly, his point is that police brutality is not limited to black Americans. He is right, of course, but for the wrong reason. Mr. Patel was initially attacked because his brownness was sufficient to render him automatically “suspect” in an otherwise affluent and overwhelmingly white neighborhood. His inability to communicate with the so-called “peace officers” compounded his “wrong color” problem, and thus made him even more suspicious in their lights. Wrong color; wrong language; and male: equals “probable” cause: equals criminal.

“It can happen to anyone,” Sherrod continued. “It just takes a little bit of a miscommunication and the officer thinks violence is the solution,” he concluded.

Except that it doesn’t happen to just “anyone.” Brutalization at the hands of America’s finest is more likely — much more likely — to happen to black people (or as in this case, people who may look “black”) wherever they may be — in their cars, in department stores, walking down the sidewalk, in your own damn house.

Welcome to America, Mr. Patel….and get well soon.

Originally published at https://www.laprogressive.com on February 11, 2015.

UPDATE: September 12, 2019

Video credit: AL.com via Youtube.com

In 2016, following two mistrials, a federal judge acquitted former police officer Eric Parker, who had been charged with violating Mr. Patel’s civil rights in 2015.

The 27-year-old former officer had pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of deprivation of rights under color of law, which included the right to be free from “unreasonable force.” Parker had already been fired by the Madison, Alabama police department.

Parker’s acquittal followed two previous mistrials which had ended in hung juries. In summing up the case against Parker, US District Court Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala’s rather caustic 92-page opinion stated that after

….two full and fair chances to obtain a conviction, government prosecutors will not have another.

The result in this case is by no means satisfying, she continued. Hindsight brings clarity to a calamity. Mr. Patel’s celebrated arrival in this country to begin a new life with his son was interrupted in two tragic minutes. If Mr. Parker or Mr. Patel could take that time back, both would surely do things differently and avoid the events that have forever changed both of their lives.

And, in addressing Mr. Patel’s serious and “life-changing” injuries inflicted upon him by Officer Parker, amazingly, the judge wrote:

However, that injury, standing alone, does not provide the basis for a criminal judgment against Mr. Parker under 18 U.S.C. § 242. The law presumes Mr. Parker’s innocence, and the evidence in the record from two trials does not eliminate reasonable doubt as to Mr. Parker’s guilt.

The case against Officer Parker was weak from the outset, opined the judge. And, even more amazingly, she said that she did not expect or foresee a different outcome from a possible third trial.

The Court has viewed the full expanse of evidence concerning the use of force and is left with the firm conviction that the evidence concerning use of force in this case is not adequate to support a unanimous verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, she wrote.

She went even further, though, raising doubts not only about Mr. Patel’s injuries, but his inability to speak English as well. That inability was, she wrote, “very much” disputed — this despite the fact that Officer Parker himself at the time of the “incident” is on record telling his supervisor that Mr. Patel “can’t speak a bit of English.”

Finally, accepting the neighbor’s complaint as prima facie evidence that something was amiss because a “skinny black guy” was seen in her neighborhood, and therefore assuming the absolute worst about the mere presence of the grandfatherly Mr. Patel, this federal judge wrote:

And if Mr. Patel actually told Officers Parker and Slaughter that he was ‘walking, walking,’ then Officers Slaughter and Parker — indeed any reasonable officer — would have reason to suspect that Mr. Patel was being dishonest and evasive when he repeatedly said ‘No English,’ the judge wrote.

Judge Haikala also said that the officers reasonably investigated Mr. Patel based on the 911 call reporting a suspicious individual, because police “did not know whether Mr. Patel was casing homes for a future burglary or whether he may have committed a crime before the officers arrived.” Accepting Officer Parker’s version of events in total, the judge allowed that Mr. Patel resisted Officer Parker when he attempted to pat him down, again supporting her position that Parker and his fellow officers acted reasonably.

For obvious reasons, attorneys are loath to contradict judicial judgments, judicial orders, judicial fiats and judicial opinions. But in a rare, public disagreement with this federal judge, US attorney Joyce White Vance, who prosecuted this case and now is a cable news “contributor,” demurred. Attorney Vance flatly ignored that unwritten, unspoken piece of litigation etiquette, arguing that the evidence presented against Officer Parker was more than sufficient for a conviction.

Where you were born shouldn’t change how you are treated by the police, Vance said. Everyone in this country must be able to trust law enforcement. We remain committed to prosecuting those few officers who cross the line and use unreasonable force.

Mr. Patel’s treatment by the police, his injuries, and Officer Parker’s eventual acquittal prompted a strong protest from the Indian government. “We are extremely disturbed,” said a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, Syed Akbaruddin, at a briefing.

This is a matter of concern for us; and India and the US ‒ as open, pluralist societies ‒ need to address these issues and find ways in a mature manner so that these are aberrations, and are not the norm, he said.

Even the then Alabama governor Robert Bentley apologized to Mr. Patel for the “unfortunate use of excessive force.”

As noted above, Mr. Patel and his attorneys have filed a civil lawsuit in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals against the Madison, Alabama Police Department and former Officer Parker seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages. As of this writing, that case remains pending.

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Freelancer since the earth first began cooling. My beat, justice: racial, social, political, economic and cultural. I’m on FB, Twitter, Link, hdyerjr@gmail.com.

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