F.B.I. Investigating Kansas Shooting of Indian Men as Hate Crime

F.B.I. Investigating Kansas Shooting of Indian Men as Hate Crime

The F.B.I. said on Thursday that it was investigating the shooting of two Indian immigrants by a white man who leveled ethnic slurs at them and questioned their immigration status before he opened fire at a Kansas bar as a hate crime.

The suspect, Adam W. Purinton, was thrown out of Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kan., last Wednesday after verbally harassing the two Indian men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, and suggesting they did not belong in the United States, the authorities said.

He returned to the bar with a gun a short time later and shot both men as they sat on its outdoor patio, killing Mr. Kuchibhotla and injuring Mr. Madasani, the authorities said. Ian Grillot, another bar patron, was also shot and injured as he tried to stop Mr. Purinton from fleeing the scene.

Mr. Purinton was charged last week with premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder. The Kansas City division of the F.B.I. said on Tuesday that federal authorities were also investigating the shootings as a hate crime. The move was not unexpected given the nature of the shooting.

“Based upon the initial investigative activity, the F.B.I., in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, is investigating this incident as a hate crime,” the agency said in a statement. “The F.B.I. will continue to work jointly with Olathe Police Department and our state and local partners regarding this ongoing investigation.”

The shootings have heightened anxieties about a surge of white nationalism and a climate of hostility toward immigrants and racial minorities in the United States. Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Mr. Kuchibhotla, addressed those fears directly during an emotional news conference last Friday.

“I have a question in my mind: Do we belong?” She said, according to The Kansas City Star. “I need an answer from the government. What are they going to do to stop this hate crime?”

In an interview with The New York Times last week, one of the victims, Mr. Madasani, said Mr. Purinton had asked them directly about their immigration status shortly before he opened fire.

“He asked us what visa are we currently on and whether we are staying here illegally,” Mr. Madasani told The Times. Both he and Mr. Kuchibhotla were educated in the United States and were working and living in the country legally.

“We didn’t react,” Mr. Madasani said. “People do stupid things all the time. This guy took it to the next level.”

President Trump has made an immigration crackdown one of the centerpieces of his young administration, including a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries that is currently the subject of litigation.

The president has been criticized for not directly addressing the shooting. Last week, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, called the episode “tragic” but rejected any link between Mr. Trump’s policy agenda and anti-immigrant violence as “absurd.”

On Tuesday, the White House issued a statement condemning the shooting as “an act of racially motivated hatred.”

“I want to reiterate the president condemns these or any other racially or religiously motivated attacks in the strongest terms,” Sarah Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, told CNN. “They have no place in our country.”

(Why?)

Published at Tue, 28 Feb 2017 23:59:09 +0000

Was Texas Voter ID Law Biased? Justice Dept. Stays Out of Argument

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. — For several days in 2014 at the federal courthouse here, lawyers argued over whether the Texas Legislature had passed its voter identification law motivated, at least in part, by a desire to deter minorities from voting. Lawyers for the Justice Department said it had, as did lawyers for minority voters and civil rights groups. Lawyers for Texas denied the allegation.

More than two years later, in the very same courtroom, the same judge listened to what were largely the same arguments made by many of the same lawyers on Tuesday. But there was one significant exception: The Justice Department stayed out of the fight.

On Monday, the Trump administration’s Justice Department withdrew its claim that Texas had enacted the law with a discriminatory intent, reversing a position that had been part of the agency’s yearslong legal battle.

The reversal the day before set an awkward tone to a previously scheduled hearing in the case. The Justice Department remains a party to the case but has walked away from a key part of it, citing a desire to allow the Texas Legislature to fix the problems cited by a federal appeals court last year.

The judge — Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas — asked a Justice Department official whether he wanted to add anything about the withdrawal.

“The motion speaks for itself, your honor,” replied John M. Gore, the deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s Civil Rights Division.

After the hearing, Ezra D. Rosenberg, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, said, “It’s sad, in a way.” “You have the most important governmental civil rights agency abandoning a claim that is strong and solid and which it has steadfastly prosecuted for five years,” he said.

Current Justice Department officials declined to comment, but a former official said the withdrawal from the claim on discriminatory intent was wrenching.

Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division under President Barack Obama, said, “It was reversing the position that career lawyers have been pursuing for several years, and that’s really troubling.”

At the hearing, Mr. Gore, the Justice Department official, asked Judge Ramos to delay ruling on the discriminatory-intent question until the Texas Legislature votes on new voter ID bills. He said the pending bills made the record in the case continually evolving. Lawyers for the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, agreed with the Justice Department’s request for the delay.

Opponents of the law said the new bills had nothing to do with the question of discriminatory intent. They said that the appellate court’s decision did not require Judge Ramos to consider any pending bills and that one of the best arguments for not postponing a decision had come from the Justice Department itself. The groups challenging the law used the department’s own words — uttered during the previous administration — to help make the case.

The Justice Department in August had opposed a move by Texas to postpone the case until after the legislative session.

Chad Dunn, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, quoted from the Justice Department’s August brief in his presentation and then added, “On the United States’ position — they got it right the first time.”

Judge Ramos issued no ruling. She asked each side to submit briefs that address what role, if any, the new voter ID bills play in the case. It is unclear when she will rule on the discriminatory-intent issue and whether she will agree with Texas and the Justice Department to delay a ruling until after June 18, the last day the governor can sign or veto legislation.

The voter ID law was found by the appellate court to have a discriminatory effect on black and Hispanic voters, many of whom lacked the required government-issued photo ID. Establishing the Legislature’s motive in passing the bill has proved to be one of the most vexing and politically contentious questions in the case.

At the hearing on Tuesday, the law’s opponents said Republican lawmakers had steamrollered the bill through the Legislature in the name of preventing voter fraud and made numerous departures from legislative norms, including classifying it as emergency legislation and bypassing the usual committee process. Lawmakers, they argued, had selected IDs that were more accessible to white voters and excluded those more accessible to minority voters.

And they said Texas lawmakers had failed to fully explain why they moved so swiftly to address a voter fraud issue that the appellate court called an “almost nonexistent problem.”

The true purpose, they said, was in part to help Republicans maintain their hold on power amid the rapid growth of Democratic-leaning black and Hispanic voters.

Lawyers for Texas described the accusation that Republican lawmakers had passed the law to strengthen their power and hurt minority voters as a “false narrative.” They said the departures from the normal legislative process had been done to prevent Democratic lawmakers from manipulating procedural rules to thwart passage of the bill.

And they maintained that opponents had obtained thousands of internal legislative documents and held hours of depositions with lawmakers, but turned up no evidence that any legislator had acted with a racially discriminatory purpose.

“Race had nothing to do with it,” Angela V. Colmenero, an official with the Texas attorney general’s office, told the judge.

(Why?)

Published at Wed, 01 Mar 2017 02:06:38 +0000