Indian Grandfather Paralyzed by Police for Looking Like a ‘Skinny Black Guy’

Sureshbhai Patel

by Rishika Reddy

Police in Madison, Alabama injured a 57-year-old Indian grandfather, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. Sureshbhai Patel, a permanent resident of the U.S. was slammed to the ground by the police and hospitalized with a fused vertebrae.

Patel arrived in the country a week before the incident to help his son and daughter-in-law with their 17-month-old-son.

While Patel was taking a stroll around the neighborhood, he was stopped and questioned by two officers who claimed to be responding to a suspicious person call. The neighbor identified Patel as a “skinny black guy” whom he had never seen before. The caller said the Patel was acting suspiciously by looking into windows and going through the trash.

As the officers were questioning Patel, he repeatedly said “no English,” “walking,” and “India” as he pointed to his son’s house by repeating the house number. The officers claimed Patel put his hands in his pockets, which escalated into slamming him to the ground. The incident left Patel with a bloody face, and in need of surgery to fuse two vertebrae.

His son Chirag Patel, an engineer who described his town as affluent, found his father paralyzed at the hospital.

Henry Sherrod, the family’s attorney, stated that the Patel family is suing for damages, including Patel’s medical bills. Sherrod, civil rights attorney, criticized the officer’s excessive use of force and according to reports, he said “there is nothing suspicious about Mr. Patel other than he has brown skin.”

There is nothing suspicious about Mr. Patel other than he has brown skin.”

Last summer, a similar incident took place when Chuamtoli Huq, a Bangladeshi-American woman was questioned and arrested by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers for waiting for her children and husband on the sidewalk outside a restaurant in Times Square, N.Y.

Huq, a human rights attorney, was dressed in South Asian attire when the officers approached her and began questioning. Huq was charged for blocking the sidewalk, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. In spite of leaving the sidewalk completely clear, the officers pushed her against the wall and handcuffed her.

Huq later filed a lawsuit in federal court  in September 2014, alleging that the NYPD officers used “unreasonable and wholly unprovoked force” when they arrested her without probable cause.

As a young woman of color and as someone who has dealt with police brutality, I wanted to know how Huq felt about Patel’s encounter with the police.

I was deeply saddened to hear about how Mr. Patel was brutalized by the Alabama police,” Huq said. “It is not uncommon for South Asian grandparents to stay with their families, especially to spend time with their grandchildren, and they usually walk in the neighborhood for exercise, as did my grandmother when she stayed with my mother. To imagine you can be brutalized for doing something so normal is shocking. That is what happened to me, except thankfully I wasn’t paralyzed. I was waiting on the sidewalk for my husband to bring back my kids from the restroom. You never imagine that this could happen.

What this incident shows is the importance of training especially in dealing with LEP communities, Limited English Proficient. Mr. Patel explained he did not speak English, and could not understand their questions, yet, they brutalized him anyway.”

Incidents of police abuse have circulated in the media and it’s not a surprise Huq has witnessed over-policing of minority groups around the city and the country.

“Over-policing of minority groups is a serious problem in NYC and nationally,” she said. “President Barack Obama has even convened a Taskforce on Policing and Department of Justice will be hosting community panels to hear from members on improving police-community relations. This is why you can see protests throughout the country to stop this brutality on communities of color.  Black communities often are the most violent victims of policing, but other communities experience harassment as well, as I did, as a Muslim woman of color.

Interestingly, the news report indicated that a neighbor thought he was a ‘skinny black guy’ and so in our racist society regardless of your background, if you are not white, you are seen as black. This is why it is so important for all communities of color to work together to speak up against this over-policing.”

Being humiliated and arrested in public can be shocking to anyone, and no one can agree more than Huq.

Being unlawfully arrested, and separated from my children, and having to sit in prison for close to nine hours, and having the officer lean on my body, all during the holy month of Ramadan was traumatizing to me and still is,” Huq said. “It has affected my sleep and health. I find strength in the hope that with all the organizing that is happening post Ferguson we will see some meaningful changes.”

Since over-policing and police brutality has become nationwide problems, especially in minority communities, Huq and South Asian organizations have come together to recommend methods to police departments so they can understand their communities better.

We need strong policies to regulate police in how they deal with minority communities. There are local solutions in terms of increased oversight over local police departments. We need to develop training [sessions] with community based organizations on interacting with communities of color, around race, gender, religion and language.

In my lawsuit, I am demanding required training to interact with the South Asian and Muslim community, as well as a gender sensitivity training. Also, we need to speak up against the increased militarization of local police as we saw in Ferguson with tear gas and tanks. This creates a heightened tension between police and community, which leads to these severe attacks. I learned that the arresting officer in my case was a military contractor. Military tactics should not be used by local police on residents.”

The recent killing of unarmed citizens has put a spotlight on the increased militarization of local police and the over-policing of minorities. The most popular tactic used to police minorities is the Stop-and-Frisk policy in New York City, sometimes called the Terry Stop in other parts of the country. This particular policy gives officers the authority to stop an individual and frisk them for weapons or other suspicious articles. The policy has mostly targeted young black and Latino men.

In 2011, the New York Attorney General’s Office, found that “there were more stops of young black men in the city than there were actual young black men.” Such tactics have led to a vast racial disparity in the prison system.

According to the Sentencing Project, more than 60 percent of the people in prison are racial minorities. The racial disparity in the prison system and in everyday policing has a huge impact on minority communities and how they are perceived by the larger society. As people of color, it is important to join forces and understand that racism impacts many levels of society.

Unlike Patel, Michael Brown and Eric Garner did not receive an immediate response from the local police department or the FBI. This by no means is diminishing Patel’s pain or what his family is going through, but it is important to know that Patel’s situation received an immediate response from the Madison City Police Department and gave rise to a civil rights investigation by the FBI.

More so, one unforgettable fact about this unfortunate situation is that the caller identified Patel as a “skinny black guy.” This really speaks to the racist nature we live in. If you’re not white, then you’re black, and if you are black, you are followed by the notion that you are up to no good. It’s this type of ignorant, outdated mentality that continues to target minorities and impact their families, livelihood, economic status and personality. According to Sherrod, Patel is thankfully recovering and able to speak. As per Patel’s GoFundMePage, Sherrod said,

His grip strength is improving, though he can’t yet handle small objects (like a spoon). His legs are improving, too, particularly his right leg. The doctors attribute the improvement to Mr. Patel’s hard work and motivation.”



Eric Parker, one of the officers involved in the incident, was fired and charged with third-degree assault. The FBI is conducting an investigation to see if any federal laws were violated.

If you believe Patel was wrongfully convicted, support his GoFundMe campaign and help his family pay medical bills. To date, the Patel family has raised more than $185,000, surpassing their goal of $100,000.

by Sheena Pradhan

I read the words, Grandfather visiting Alabama from India stopped by police while taking walk, left partly paralyzed on my Facebook newsfeed while I was getting ready on an otherwise normal Wednesday morning. After reading the title again, this time more closely, I noticed the words “grandfather” and “India” written in the same headline, so I clicked and what followed was a feeling of pain.

A 57-year-old Indian man was innocently strolling an affluent suburban neighborhood in Alabama, when he was allegedly stopped, frisked, and pinned to the ground for no reason.

As a young girl who grew up in suburban New Jersey, the town of Madison does not sound so different from my home.

All four of my grandparents lived with my family at different points in my childhood. Sureshbhai Patel’s story feels so close to home because I immediately think of my late grandfather, who would take me along during his mid-afternoon strolls.

Hanging out with my grandparents, who would regularly take my brother and I to the playground, was a peaceful time. In fact, going for walks was a neighborhood tradition. There were quite a few “Indian grandparents” living with their families in our neighborhood.

The thought that my grandparents would not be safe, doing something so harmless, because of something as superficial as racism horrifies me.

The Patels’ story is the reality of many South Asian immigrant families living in the United States. A hardworking son, like Chirag Patel, immigrates from a small farming town in India and works his way through college to become an engineer. After years of hard work and sacrifice, him and his wife settle down and start a family in the suburbs, finally living their “American dream.” Once he’s comfortable in his new country of residence, he invites his father on a one-way ticket to permanently live with them, hoping to mutually benefit from his stay.

Sureshbhai could have been anyone’s grandpa and Chirag could be anyone’s son.

Today, it’s unfortunate to say, but as a brown woman walking through the gate at an airport, I expect to get searched.

Anybody working in the line of defense is considered a civil servant, same as doctors, social workers, and nurses. So, with that in mind, aren’t police supposed to help people in danger and not create a terrorizing environment for people of color? If cops are the ones letting their own personal stereotypes of certain cultures and races get in the way of doing their job of protecting society, then maybe they should not be employed by the police force.

This is bigger than police brutality. This has to do with a lot of deep-rooted racism because let’s not forget the brunt of the story: the neighbor who called the cops said the grandfather looked like a “skinny black guy,” which hence made him suspicious.

That concept baffles my mind! Here we are, trying to bring justice to Micheal Brown’s and Travyon Martin’s lives with trending hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and holding vigils and peaceful marches, but then we take 10 steps backward by immediately jumping to conclusions and blindly resorting to the fact that a “skinny black guy” is up to no good in the neighborhood.

How many more paralyzed grandfathers and dead black men will it take for us to separate race and color with individual actions?!

Tell us your thoughts below!

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