Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 February 2017
There are friends and stories that remain in the back of your mind that sometimes require some dramatic moment to have their memory come rushing to your forethoughts.
Such is the case of my Indian friend Sumit, originally of Orissa Province, India, and now Canadian resident of Ontario.
I have known him only for three years, but his friendship is such that constant communication between us is unnecessary, for ours is a friendship that does not need to be constantly voiced to be assured of its constancy.
We met while we were both seeking to improve our German in evening courses across the lake in Konstanz and have remained friends ever since.
I have watched him struggle and succeed against racial profiling, unequal employment opportunities, uncertain prospects and unhappy losses in his family.
Last contact with him a while ago, he spoke with joy about his newborn son, his satisfaction with his Canadian employer and his hopes for the future.
As with all those who have chosen to call me “friend” it is with the greatest pleasure that I greet his communications and listen with rapt attention to his tales of my home and native land from his non-native perspective.
It is a rare moment when a bus ride from Landschlacht through Kreuzlingen to Konstanz does not bring back to me recollections of Sumit riding his bicycle along the same route.
His friendship is such that he will be the sole reason that I will include Toronto in my itinerary when I return again to Canada for a visit.
His laugh, his humor, his unique perspective on issues, all are missed.
He is missed.
Sumit dominates my thoughts this week when I read of recent events in Kansas.
Olathe, Kansas, USA, 22 February 2017
In my own personal travels in America I have visited at least 40 States.
By happenstance, and like most tourists American or foreign, Kansas is one of those States that somehow seems to get overlooked, which is a shame.
For Kansas is surprising.
The vast, rolling prairies of Kansas, blanketed by wheat, battered by tornadoes, ignored by many, is said to be the Home on the Range (the state song) of some of the friendliest folks you could possibly hope to meet.
The Sunflower State, 32nd in population, 15th in area, the 34th to join the Union, birthplace of avatrix Amelia Earhart (1897 – 1937), jazzman Charlie Parker (1920 – 1955), actress Annette Bening (born 1958), songstress Melissa Etheridge (born 1961) and silent film legend Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton (1895 – 1966), Kansas is famous for Turkey Red wheat, being the first State to start prohibition, and the fictional residence of Dorothy and Toto (of The Wizard of Oz (1939) fame).
Kansas has historically been a place people pass through – Spanish conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coranado (1510 – 1554) seeking the rich civilization of the Quivira, cowboys driving cattle, pioneers following the Santa Fe Trail, the Pony Express delivering mail, railroads transporting goods and people, carloads of college kids heading to Colorado ski slopes…
The buffalo are gone, as are the native Kansa tribe who were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in 1873.
One might argue that it was in Kansas that the US Civil War really began, for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed settlers to vote for or against slavery, triggered Bleeding Kansas – a term coined by Republican New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley – violent political confrontations that gave a glimpse of how impossible compromise without conflict would be, how inevitable Civil War would become.
Above: Reynold’s 1856 map showing free and slave states, Kansas in white in the middle
In October 1855, abolitionist John Brown (1800 – 1857) came to Kansas to fight slavery.
On 21 November 1855, the Wakarusa War began when abolitionist/Free-Stater Charles Dow was shot by a pro-slavery settler.
On 6 December Free Stater Thomas Barber is shot and killed near Lawrence.
On 21 May 1856, Missourians invade Lawrence and burn down the Free State Hotel, destroy two newspaper offices and ransack homes and stores.
In response, Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts took to the floor of the US Senate in Washington DC to denounce the threat of slavery in Kansas and humiliate its supporters.
Sumner had devoted his enormous energies to the destruction of the Slave Power – the efforts of slave owners to take control of the federal government and ensure the survival and expansion of slavery.
In his The Crime against Kansas speech, Sumner ridiculed the honour of elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, portraying Butler’s pro-slavery agenda towards Kansas with the raping of a virgin and characterizing his affection for it in sexual and graphic terms.
The next day Butler’s cousin, the South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, nearly killed Sumner on the Senate floor of the Senate with a heavy cane, deepening the North-South split.
Violence continued to increase.
Ohio abolitionist John Brown led his sons and followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke in favour of slavery.
On the night of 24 May, at the proslavery settlement of Pottawatomie Creek, Brown’s group seized five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords.
Brown and his men escaped and began plotting a full scale slave insurrection to take place at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had created from unorganised native lands the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, permitted residency by US citizens who would decide the region’s slavery status and seek admission to the Union as States.
Immigrants supporting both sides of the question arrived in Kansas to establish residency and gain the right to vote.
Kansas Territory officials were appointed by the pro-slavery administration of US President Franklin Pierce (1804 – 1869)(14th US President 1853 – 1857) and thousands of non-resident pro-slavery Missourians entered Kansas with the goal of winning elections, sometimes capturing them by fraud and intimidation.
In response, Northern abolitionist elements flooded Kansas with free-soilers.
Anti-slavery Kansas residents wrote the first Kansas Constitution and elected the Free State legislature in Topeka, in direct opposition to the pro-slavery government in Lecompton.
In April 1856, a Congressional committee arrived in Lecompton to investigate voting fraud and found the elections had been improperly elected by non-residents.
President Pierce refused recognition of the committee’s findings and continue to authorise the pro-slavery legislature, which the Free State people called the Bogus Legislature.
On 4 July 1856, proclamations of President Pierce led to 500 US Army troops arriving in Topeka from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley.
With cannons pointed at Constitution Hall, they ordered the disperal of the Free State Legislature.
In August 1856, thousands of pro-slavery men formed into armies and marched into Kansas.
That same month, Brown and his followers engaged 400 pro-slavery soldiers in the Battle of Osawatomie.
Hostilities raged for another two months until Brown departed Kansas and a new territorial governor John Geary took office and managed to prevail upon both sides for peace.
This fragile peace was often broken by intermittent violent outbreaks for two more years.
By 1859 approximately 56 people would die violently in Bleeding Kansas.
The American Civil War commenced in 1861.
Over time, the rip-roaring open range would evolve to become some of the most productive wheatlands in the world, while aviation industries would become big moneymakers for the State as well.
For the tourist, there are some tourist attractions in the State.
In northwest Kansas on route 24 is Nicodemus – the oldest African American settlement west of the Mississippi.
Founded in 1877 by black American settlers seeking the promised land, this lonely but friendly village of 25 souls has five historic buildings and a single isolated parking meter.
Nearby Hays has the Fort Hays Historical Site and the domed Sternberg Museum of Natural History with an unusual fish-within-a-fish fossil and animated dinosaurs.
To the south between Dodge City and Wichita, Hutchinson‘s Cosmosphere and Space Center is an out-of-this-world collection of rockets, space gear and warheads.
Here visitors can see the original Apollo 13, a nuclear warhead that had been found rotting in an Alabama warehouse and cool Soviet cosmonaut outfits.
In Wichita, the birthplace of both Pizza Hut and the Coleman lantern, the visitor can touch a tornado, visit a traditional Wichita grass house and revisit the Wild West in Old Cowtown.
Above: Wichita’s Exploration Place
Lawrence, the nicest city in Kansas, has America’s only intertribal university (where Olympian athlete Jim Thorpe studied) and Teller’s Restaurant, transformed from a bank, offers bathrooms inside a vault.
Lawrence is famous for the University of Kansas and the many famous folks who once resided here (ex: activist Erin Brokovich, author William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch), basketballer Wilt Chamberlain, Senator Bob Dole, author Frank Harris (My Life and Loves), scientist/diet pioneer Elmer “Mr. Vitamin” McCollum, Canadian-born basketball inventor James Naismith, author Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski crime series), actor Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), just to name a few…)
Topeka, the state capital, has the unassuming Brown vs Board of Education Historic Site (which shows the story of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case which banned segration in US schools), the impressively domed State Capitol (housing a famous mural of John Brown) and the Menninger Foundation (a leader in mental health treatment which displays a collection of old mechanical restraints).
Dodge City revels in its infamous Wild West past with its Boot Hill Museum and Front Street cemetery, jail and saloon, where enactments regularly held invoke the memory of Wyatt Earp (1848 – 1929) and Bat Masterson (1853 – 1921), gunslingers, buffalo hunters, card sharks and brothel keepers.
Above: Wyatt Earp (seated) and Bat Masterson (standing)
Abilene, where once cussin’ cowboys and huge herds of Texas longhorns ended their trip up the Chisholm Trail, the visitor can now find the boyhood home of former President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower (1890 – 1969)(34th US President, 1953 – 1961) and the Greyhound (the dogs not the buses) Hall of Fame.
Lindsborg flaunts its Swedish roots, while the large Mennonite communities around Hillsboro are descendants of Russian immigrants who brought the Turkey Red strain of wheat to the Great Plains where it thrived despite harsh conditions.
But Olathe in northeastern Kansas, a stone’s throw away from both Lawrence and the twin cities of Kansas City on the Kansas-Missouri border, seems to escape the notice of most folks.
In the spring of 1857, Dr. John T. Barton rode to the centre of Johnson County and staked two quarter sections of land.
Barton later described his ride to friends:
“…the prairie was covered with verbena and other wild flowers.
I kept thinking the land was beautiful and that I should name the place Beautiful.”
Barton asked a Shawnee interpreter how to say beautiful in his native tongue.
The interpreter responded, “Olathe”.
Olathe saw violence during the days of Bleeding Kansas and much conflict during the American Civil War.
On 7 September 1862, Confederate guerrillas from Missouri led by William Quantrill surprised the military post (located on the public square where a company of more than 125 Union troops, most of them recruits) and the residents of Olathe, killing a half dozen men, robbed numerous businesses and homes, forced the Union troops to surrender and compelling them to swear an oath forbidding them to take up arms against the Confederacy, and destroying most of the city.
Quantrill would again raid the city on 21 August 1863, en route to Lawrence (where he would massacre over 164 civilians) and later Olathe would suffer a third raid by Confederate Major General Sterling Price and his force of 10,000 men as they retreated south on 25 October 1864 just before the Battle of Marais des Cygnes.
Kansas militia would occupy Olathe until August 1865.
Olathe served as a stop on the Oregon Trail, the California Trail and the Santa Fe Trail, so catering to travellers was the main source of income for local stores and businesses.
The Mahaffie House, a popular resupply point of wagons headed westward, is today a registered historical site maintained by the City of Olathe.
The staff wears period costumes, while stagecoach rides and farm animals make the site a favourite attraction for young and old.
Visitors can participate in Civil War enactments, Wild West Days and other activities.
In the 1950s, the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the I-35 linked Olathe with nearby Kansas City, resulting in tremendous commercial and residential growth that still continues.
In 2008, the US Census Bureau ranked Olathe as the 24th fastest-growing city in America, while CNN/Money and Money magazine ranked Olathe #11 in its list of the 100 Best Cities to Live in the United States.
Winters are cold, summers hot and humid in Olathe.
Folks in Olathe are fairly well educated with 35 elementary schools, 9 middle schools, 4 high schools, the MidAmerica Nazarene University and the Kansas State School for the Deaf.
Olathe is home to many companies, including Honeywell, Husqvarna, Aldi, Garmin, Grundfos and the Farmers Insurance Group (this latter though based in LA has more Farmers employees here than anywhere else in the US).
Olathe has also produced a few notable people like Hollywood actor Charles Buddy Rogers (lead actor in Wings – the first picture to win an Academy Award – America’s boyfriend and 3rd/final husband of America’s Sweetheart, Canadian-born Mary Pickford), actor Willie Ames (of TV’s Eight is Enough and Charles in Charge), NFL footballers Jonathan Quinn and Darren Sproles, as well as prominent Communist leader and 1936/1940 US Presidential candidate Earl Browder.
Olathe is now famous for four other names: Adam Purinton, 51, and his victims – Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, who died; his friend Alok Madasani who was injured; and Ian Grillot, 24, who had tried to stop Purinton’s violence, also injured.
Above: Adam Purinton, suspected shooter
From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotia, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; Ian Grillot, also injured
Last Wednesday night at 2103 East 151st Street in South Olathe – one of three chain locations – Austins Bar and Grill – “serving up great food and spirits since 1987”, known for its “world famous chicken tenders”, “sports, spirits, steaks”, smoked pulled pork. BBQ sauce, Napa slaw (cole slaw from the Napa Valley?) and baked beans, was offering its Wednesday night $7.00 special: chicken fried steak smothered in gravy and served with garlic mashed potatoes and sweet corn.
The place was packed, as folks were watching the University of Kansas (Lawrence) Jayhawks basketball team, coached by Bill Self, play at home against Fort Worth’s TCU (Texas Christian University) Horned Frogs.
Kansasans were hoping that the Jayhawks continue their 13-game winning streak.
(Final score: U of K – 87, TCU – 68)
Kuchibhotia and Madasani both worked at the US technology company Garmin.
Garmin is a multinational, founded by Gary Burrell and Min Kao in 1989 from Lenexa, Kansas, with its international HQ in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and its American HQ right there in Olathe.
Garmin is known for its specialization in GPS tech development for its wearable use in automotive, marine, outdoor and sports activities.
Kuchibhotia and Madasani were regulars at Austin’s Bar and Grill where they enjoyed sharing a drink after work.
Purinton, another customer, began shouting racial slurs and told the two men that they did not belong in America.
Madasani told the BBC:
“This guy just randomly comes up and starts pointing fingers.
We knew something was wrong.
He said, ‘Which country are you from? Are you here illegally?’ “
Purinton was thrown out, but, according to Olathe Police, he returned with a gun.
A bystander told the Kansas City Star that Puriton shouted: “Get out of my country.” just before opening fire, killing Kuchibhota and wounding Madasani.
Grillot hid under a table when the shooting began, counted the gunman’s shots, then pursued Purinton, mistaking thinking he was out of bullets.
Grillot was shot in the hand and the chest.
Grillot, speaking from his hospital bed to local KMBC TV news, brushed aside any suggestions that he was a hero:
“It wasn’t right and I didn’t want the gentleman to potentially go after somebody else.
I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being.
It’s not about where he’s from or his ethnicity.
We’re all humans.
So I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.”
Madasani later visited Grillot to thank him.
Purinton fled on foot.
Thousands of Indian tech workers have come to the United States under the H1-B program, which grants skilled foreign workers temporary visas.
Kuchibhota’s wife, Sunayana Dumala, had grown anxious about racial hatred after the election of Donald Trump, but she said Srinivas was dedicated to their life in the United States and to his job as an engineer.
Sunayana began to lose sleep after the election in November, fearful that the couple would suffer hate crimes in the country they called home.
“I was so worried I just couldn’t sleep.”, Sunayana told the BBC.
“I was talking to Srini and I was like, ‘Will we be safe in this country?’
He would say ‘Nani, Nani, don’t worry. We will be OK. We will be OK.’ “
They discussed whether they should return to India but, in the end, she decided that if they minded their own business, nobody would harm them.
Many immigrants in the US have been voicing anxiety since the rise of President Trump, who has ordered restrictions on immigration and a sped-up deportation process for undocumented immigrants.
A potential tightening of the H1-B program has raised concerns in India where many young people dream of studying or working in the United States.
Sunayana last saw her husband that morning when he left for work.
“I was still taking my shower as he was passing from the hall and he said goodbye.”
Srinivas had worked late two nights already that week and so she texted him to ask if he would bring some work home so they could have tea together.
He said yes and told her he would be home at 7 pm.
At 8 pm Sunayana began to get worried and started calling friends, including Madasani’s wife.
Sunayana heard something about a shooting at a bar and she phoned her husband over and over again.
A friend came to the house with news.
Sunayana wanted to rush to the hospital but collapsed in the garage.
She waited at the house until two policemen arrived.
“They asked me my name, Srini’s name, his date of birth.
Then they told me those words and they just said it so simply.
They said they were sorry.”
Srini was from the Indian city of Hyderabad, where his parents still live.
Sunayana said her husband “loved America” and came to the country “full of dreams”.
Sunayana described how her husband had recently bought a car for his father.
“He was so happy and so proud about it.”
Srini had worked at Rockwell Collins, an avionics and IT systems company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before joining Garmin in 2014.
“Just last week we drove to Iowa to see our friends and their new baby.
When we came back, he was working in the car while I was driving.
That’s how much he loved working.
He personally wanted to do so much for this country.”
Purinton was arrested five hours later at an Applebee’s restaurant just over the state border, 80 miles / 130 km away in Clinton, Missouri.
He told a staff member at the dining chain that he needed a place to hide because he had killed two Middle Eastern men.
A barman there tipped off police that he had a customer who had admitted shooting two men.
Police officers arrived to detain the suspect.
Purinton has been charged with premeditated first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder.
Olathe Police Chef Steve Menke has declined to comment on the reports of racial abuse, but said his force was working with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) “to investigate any and all aspects of this horrific crime”.
The FBI have reported a rise in hate crimes in the US since Trump’s nomination as Republican candidate for the US Presidency.
Last October, two men were charged with hate crimes in Richmond, California, after being accused of beating a Sikh man and using a knife to cut his hair, which was unshorn by religious mandate.
The Olathe killing has dominated news bulletins and social media in India.
Above: The flag of India
Indian actor Siddharth Narayan tweeted to his 2.6 million followers:
“Don’t be shocked!
Trump is spreading hate.
This is a hate crime.
RIP Srinivas Kuchibhotia.”
Shashi Tharoor, an Indian lawmaker and former diplomat, tweeted:
“The vicious racism unleashed in some quarters in the US claims more innocent victims, who happen to be Indian.”
Back in Hyderabad, Madasani’s father, also an engineer, Jaganmohan Reddy, called the Olethe shooting a hate crime and said that his family was “in a state of shock.”
Reddy said he did not know whether he would ask Madasani and another son living in the States to leave the country.
“We have to think it over.
My sons are not new to America.
They have been staying there for the last 10 to 12 years.
This is a new situation, and they are the best judges.”
Srini’s parents, Madhusuhan and Vardhini Rao, were too stunned by news of his death to comment, the Associated Press reported.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry sent two Indian consulate officials from Houston and Dallas to meet Madasani in Olethe and to arrange the repatriation of Srini’s body back to Hyderabad.
Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India in New Delhi, said that an isolated incident like Olethe would not affect the relationship between America and India, but if there were more attacks against Indians, or if the US is perceived to not be taking such cases seriously, there could be a problem.
Jay Kansara, Director of Government Relations at the Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group in Washington, called for the shooting to be investigated as a hate crime.
“Anything less will be an injustice to the victims and their families.”
The US Embassy in New Delhi condemned the shooting.
“The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live.”, said Charge d’Affaires Mary Kay Carlson.
“US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognise that justice is small consolation to families in grief.”
Nani flew to India to be with her husband’s family.
She is “devastated” by Srini’s death.
She plans to return to the US, but she said her husband would be “everywhere”.
“His clothes, his side of the sink, the way he used to brush, shower.
His daily prayers in that room, preparing his favourite food.
It will be tough eating without him.”
Landschlacht, Switzerland, 27 February 2017
As I learn more about the shooting in Olethe, I feel fear for my friend Sumit and his family in Canada.
For as liberal and welcoming as Canada appears by comparison with the United States at present, hate crimes also exist and continue to rise there as well.
For reasons that escape me there are a minority of Canadians who agree with the fear and paranoia that has managed to seep across the border from Trump´s America.
Sumit is a faithful husband, good father, true friend and hard dedicated worker.
I pray for his and his family’s safety and am almost confident that my worries have little basis in reality.
Above: Liberty Enlightening the World, New York City, USA
Sources: “Olathe shooting: Murder charge after Indian man killed in bar”, BBC News, 24 February 2017
“Olathe shooting: My husband loved America, says widow”, BBC News, 25 February 2017
“Indian foreign minister shocked by Kansas shooting”, New York Times, 25-26 February 2017
Lonely Planet USA / Wikipedia / http://www.austinsbarandgrill.com