Sureshbhai Patel, Old Indian Men, and Police Complicity

Sureshbhai Patel is a 57 year old Indian man. On February 6, 2015, he was seriously injured while detained by police officers. He had been walking around his son’s neighborhood; someone called dispatch thinking he was suspicious. You can listen the call here. The caller thought he was a skinny black man in his 30s looking into people’s garages. When police approached Sureshbhai, they attempted to talk to him, but they clearly understood that he could not speak English. You can watch the dashcam footage of the events here. Here’s additional footage from another police officer who responded to the scene soon after the first 2 officers. Patel was hospitalized and left partially paralyzed as a result of this treatment by these police officers.

Eric Parker is officer who responded to the call and who slammed Patel into the ground. On March 26th, Parker was indicted for deprivation of rights under the color of the law, which includes the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable force. The trial started on September 2nd, and on Sept. 11th, the judge declared a mistrial.

I don’t remember when I first learned about this case, probably back in March or April, and when I first heard about it, it was in the context of this article, “3 secrets of the Sureshbhai Patel case every Desi needs to know”. This article highlights the anti-black racism that instigated the situation. A man in the neighborhood was suspicious of a someone, he identified as a really skinny black man in his 30s. He called because he didn’t want to leave his wife alone because this person was making him nervouc. I think the stereotypes at play here are pretty self-explanatory.

There are so many other things at play as well. This case struck me particularly hard because I could see this happening again. I can imagine men I know in my life being treated this way. I struggle so much with this case because growing up, I spent mornings or evenings going on short walks around the neighborhood with my father, grandfather, various uncles, and whole host of family friends, all of whom have varying levels of fluency with English.

Watching the dashcam videos, it’s pretty clear that Sureshbhai didn’t know what was going on and responded as he thought was appropriate. It’s clear that the officers involved knew he couldn’t speak English. It’s clear that excessive force was involved. Like, in what situation would it be necessary to do a leg sweep and slam down a man who is handcuffed and not resisting in any way?

It’s very frustrating to me that the defense lawyer tries to make it seem like Patel was non-compliant. The prosecutor makes the statement along the lines of “failure to understand does not mean failure to comply.” From my perspective, Parker unnecessarily escalated the situation. The defense also tries to put the blame on Patel for not having identification. Like in what reality is it necessary for a person to carry identification with them at all times, especially if they’re just going on a short walk around the neighborhood?

What was most frustrating about the trial is that Parker/the defense had 6 police officers testify on his behalf, and the prosecution could not get a single person to acknowledge that Parker was using unreasonable force. They all were saying something along the lines of, “I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if it was appropriate or not”. These officers don’t see anything wrong with what Parker did, and they’re going to continue being police officers. This makes me think about the case of Samuel Dubose. When the details about shooting of Dubose came out, I remember hearing that another officer corroborated Tensing’s statement that he was dragged by Dubose’s car. There is footage of an officer saying that he saw Tensing being dragged, but since it was not an official statement, the prosecutor did not pursue any charges against any officers other than Tensing. The challenge with all of these cases is that there is an attitude among many law enforcement officials to stick up for their fellow officers to the detriment of the safety and well-being of the community. Perhaps they are not outright lying or being dishonest, but I can believe that there are really problematic ideas being perpetuated about race, citizenship status, nationality, criminality, etc., that are going unchallenged.

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