SUMAN GUHA MOZUMDER
Longtime residents of Ferguson, Missouri, contradict- ed reports that claimed Indian-American businesses there were targeted in the looting spree in the wake
of unprecedented protests after the police killing of a black
teenager, Michael Brown.
“There is no racial tension or conflict between the blacks
and Indians or other South Asians,” Mumtaz Lalani, a
Ferguson store-owner who was born in India and raised in
Pakistan, told India Abroad.
Lalani, whose store was looted and burnt, said the looters
came from outside the city and targeted every store they
could. “So, it is not that only our community was targeted,”
Lalani estimated that Ferguson’s South Asian population
would not number more than 60 or 70. There are 30 to 50
minority-owned small businesses, including about a dozen
owned by Indian Americans and other South Asians.
“The looters, who were from St Louis, a city facing dwin-
dling white population and urban decay, did not discrimi-
nate against Indian businesses,” said Anil Gopal, president,
St Louis Asian Indian Business Association. “They looted
indiscriminately those items that were of value that they
could steal. This violence affects an entire community,
including all of its citizens. Therefore, I would not turn this
into an issue about Indian Americans only.”
Gopal, who has lived in Ferguson for 21 years, added, “A
lot of black people came to help the (desi) community. They
came out in droves to help clean up the neighborhood, and
helped the victims clean up their stores. Some of them even
kept vigil outside the store as long as they could to protect
A store security cam video — released by the Ferguson
police August 15, after protests over Brown’s death escalat-
ed — showed a diminutive desi store clerk trying to prevent
a large black man from shoplifting, and in the process
being pushed down. The implication was that Brown had
taken cigarillos from the store by force.
A St Louis Post-Dispatch report last week said Andy
Patel, owner of the Ferguson Market and Liquors store,
denied being the victim of a robbery from his store. His
daughter Priyanka Patel also denied it, though she said she
had heard rumors of a shoplifting incident.
“Incidents like this happen all the time in stores owned by
Indian Americans even in large and heavily-populated
cities and townships,” Vipul Patel, director of business,
Asian American Store Owners Association, told India
The Ferguson Market, where Brown allegedly grabbed
the cigarillos before his deadly encounter with the police, is
also owned by the Patels.
After the looting and arson, local Asian-American civic
and business leaders urged for unity and calm.
‘We love Ferguson and are proud to be business members
of this community,’ Priyanka Patel said in a statement.
The South Asian Bar Association of Metropolitan St
Louis has offered legal assistance to all affected business
owners in need of help.
The Ferguson incident also put some spotlight on the
safety and security of Indian-American convenience store
A Fiscal Policy Institute report puts the number of Indian
‘small business owners’ in US at 65,000, or 7 percent of the
total small businesses in the country.
Vipul Patel, who owns a couple of stores in Florida, said
the association always advises store owners to give away the
money if the robbers demand, and not to argue with them.
He said the store clerk in Ferguson made a serious mistake
by leaving his register trying to pursue the robber.
In response to a question, he admitted that often crimes
at stores are not reported.
“I admit there are some people, who work in stores, are
illegal immigrants and they or their owners do not want to
report anything to police for fear of being caught by the
immigration,” he said. “But more than that, the fact is that
the police hardly take any action in cases like shoplifting or
Dr Kantilal Bhalani, a Florida physician who is on the
board of AASOA, agreed. “These kind of petty crimes hap-
pen 15 to 20 times a month on an average in Florida and I
am sure the same happens in other states as well, although
we do not have any national data on that,” Dr Bhalani said.
“Most of the crimes are so petty that even if you report it to
the police they will not do anything about it except filing a
Gopal said while talking about Ferguson it is important
to understand the complexities of the economic and racial
divide in America.
“This country has many problems, but there are so many
reasons we all come to America,” Gopal said. “We should be
using our efforts in building better communities like all
these business owners are doing. This country has done a
great deal for Indians, and we should encourage peace, love
New information thrown up in the police killing of mentally ill United States Army veteran Parminder
Shergill in Lodi, California, January 25,
seems to contradict the police’s version of
Officers Scott Bratton and Adam Lockie
— who responded to a call made by
Shergil’s family for help — told Lodi Police
Detective Jash Redding and District
Attorney Investigator Robert Faine that
Shergill, 43, refused to answer them or
stop, and brandished what they recognized
as a tactical knife usually carried by SWAT
officers or military soldiers.
They thought Shergill — who was mentally ill and whose family had called the police
to help bring him back home earlier — was
going to attack them, the officers said.
Bratton said he was about 20 feet behind
Shergill when Shergill pulled out the knife,
and that Shergill was ordered to drop the
weapon, which he did not, and instead
walked toward the officers.
Bratton said he believed Shergill was
going to kill him with his knife, so he fired
several rounds at Shergill, who still kept
advancing and yelling, at which point
Bratton shot at his head.
The officer said the manner in which
Shergill handled the knife made him
believe he had tactical training on how to
use the knife.
Bratton said he fired approximately eight
rounds within seconds, and stopped shooting when Shergill fell to the ground.
According to court documents,
Caasandra Lopez told a detective that she
was watching the incident from her home
window. Shergill was just standing with his
hands down, he was not moving towards
the officer when the officer shot at him,
“It’s a horrible miscarriage of justice,”
Mark Merin, the lawyer for Shergill’s fami-
ly, which has sued the police department,
told India Abroad. “Abusive process, exces-
sive force, violation of constitutional rights.
I think it is outrageous that these officers
are trying to say they were in imminent
danger or that they feared that if they did-
n’t do something to stop Shergill would go
use the knife on his family… They knew the
man was mentally ill and they stalked him
essentially and drew their weapons. That
must have been very frightening for him.”
Shergill, Merin said, had never harmed
any family member.
Parminder Shergill’s death: Another example of excessive police action?
‘A lot of black
to help the
Image taken from a security camera and presented to the media by the Ferguson Police Department August 15. Minutes before a police officer shot him dead, Michael Brown had become a suspect in the theft of cigars from a store, according to police reports. F E R G U
India Abroad August 29, 2014 A15 US NEWS