Srinivas Kuchibhotla was mourned and cremated in his home town, Hyderabad, India, on Tuesday, six days after a white U.S. Army veteran—who reportedly shouted, “Get out of my country!”—shot him dead in a bar-restaurant in Olathe, Kansas. Kuchibhotla, who was thirty-two years old and a computer engineer, had lived in the United States for more than a decade and had a master’s degree from the University of Texas at El Paso.
Before the funeral, family members and friends carried Kuchibhotla’s flower-draped body aloft. The Washington Post reported that two local politicians wielded signs that said “Down with Trump” and “Xenophobia in any form is unacceptable.” Kuchibhotla’s distraught mother told reporters that she now feared for the life of her elder son, who also lives in America. “I will not allow him to go back,” she said. “I don’t want to lose another son.”
The funeral was held a day after the White House finally expressed concern about the shooting, which also left two other men wounded, and which the F.B.I. is investigating as a hate crime. In his daily briefing on Monday, Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, condemned the wave of anti-Semitic incidents taking place across the country, and added, “While the story is evolving, early reports out of Kansas are equally disturbing.”
This statement went some way toward making up for the evasive and insensitive things Spicer said on Friday, when he was first asked about the shooting. But a few words at a White House briefing in no way excuse the continuing silence on the part of the President, whose inflammatory rhetoric over the past year and a half has been accompanied by a wave of hate crimes and other incidents aimed at Muslims, Jews, and other minorities.
Trump, after all, is hardly slow to pick up on violent incidents he finds disturbing. A few weeks ago, when an Egyptian man wielded a machete at the Louvre, in Paris, he took to Twitter and said, “GET SMART U.S.” But the President’s eye for danger is highly selective. In late January, when a white Canadian man shot and killed eight worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City, Trump held his tongue, and his Twitter finger.
The Olathe shooting took place in the American heartland, at a typical American watering hole called Austins Bar & Grill. Two of the victims, Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were employees of Garmin, an American technology firm, and the third, Ian Grillot, was a white American who tried to subdue the gunman.
According to eyewitness accounts, the suspected shooter, a fifty-one-year-old man named Adam Purinton, approached Kuchibhotla and Madasani, who is also an Indian immigrant, while they were enjoying a quiet post-work drink. He asked where they were from and whether they were living in America illegally—which they weren’t. (Like many foreign-born tech workers, they had H1B visas.) Eventually, some staff members ejected Purinton from the bar. But he returned with a gun and opened fire, killing Kuchibhotla and wounding Madasani and Grillot.
Purinton then drove seventy miles east, to Clinton, Missouri, where he told a bartender at an Applebee’s that he had shot “two Iranian people” in Olathe. He has been charged with first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder.
This much, at least, is reassuring: after the bartender called 911, America’s criminal-justice system reacted appropriately. But what about the response, or non-response, of the country’s new President? To be sure, Trump can’t be held directly responsible for the actions of every disturbed individual who has a problem, a grievance, and a gun. (A neighbor of Purinton told the Associated Press that he had become “a drunken mess” after his father’s death, about eighteen months ago.) But, as the President, Trump surely is responsible for setting a tone, or, at the very least, for condemning acts of evil and folly.
“The deadly incident in Olathe has resonated across the country and even around the globe,” an editorial in Monday’s Kansas City Star noted. “During such moments of crisis, people look to the president for strength and guidance. They need to hear their moral outrage articulated, the condemnation of a possible hate crime and the affirmation that the U.S. values everyone’s contributions, whether you’re an immigrant or native-born. For Trump, this was a crucial opportunity to condemn such hateful acts and to forcefully declare that this is not who we are.”
So far, the President has spurned the opportunity—just as he has spurned many other chances to reassure people that his “America First” slogan isn’t merely a euphemism for white nativism, racism, and reaction. During the campaign, he was pressed several times to distance himself from David Duke and other white supremacists who were cheering him on. The most Trump would offer was, “I disavow.” Since Election Day, he has continued to refer to undocumented immigrants as “bad hombres” and “bad dudes,” given immigration agents wide latitude to pursue them, and referred to a spate of immigration raids as a “military operation.”
The White House has insisted that it still supports immigrants who have come to America legally, and says it is merely cracking down on people who have broken the law. But, in many parts of the world, and indeed in America, that is not how things have been received. Trump’s election, his ill-conceived travel ban, and the shooting in Kansas look like parts of the whole.
“We are all middle class and lower middle class people and we send our children abroad with hope,” M. Rajkumar, the president of a group in India for parents with children living abroad, told the Washington Post. “Many of our young prefer to go to America for higher education. . . . Now the situation has changed after Trump has become president of the United States, racism is high and this incident is a clear example.”
That is not the image of America that Trump will seek to portray in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. Tragically, though, it is a reality.